Fourteen years ago today
Fourteen years ago today, I was awoken by a phone call from a high school friend. The ever-effervescent Brendan wanted to know if I was coming in to school, possibly because we had a class together, and he didn’t want to have withstand on his own the snarky remarks usually thrown his way. I, as I often have been during my 30 years, was sick stuck in bed, and wouldn’t be making it in. “Nope, sorry!” I told him, feeling guilty that he would have to cop his fair share of homophobic-centered abuse that never seemed to occur when one of ‘his’ girls was with him. It was his next statement, however, that really caught my attention, and it’s a phrase that I have never, ever forgotten.
“Have you seen that America is under attack?”
As a 16 year old school girl snuggled safely under my bed covers in suburban Melbourne, Australia, I don’t think I could have been any further away from the horrors that were occurring in lower Manhattan. With shock I probed Brendan for more, what did he mean? Who was attacking them? How did it happen? Of course this was before the iPhone and accessible internet on mobile phones, so I still relied on either the television or my desktop for information. Brendan, of course, gave me his version of events based on what he had seen, but it was albeit swift and succinct, and did not satiate my need for always more information before he had to run to class.
Later, I asked my Mother what has happening in the USA. I think her response, including the crestfallen look on her face, a look filled with worry, concern and of course sympathy, summed up the sentiments of those watching on from the comforts of our home, perfectly. “It’s just awful Elly. Just really, really awful.”
The days that followed I watched, read and listened to every piece of information detailing the incident as much as I could. I don’t know why this particular incident, of the hundreds of thousands of horrible human atrocities that occur in this world, struck such a chord with me, but it did. So much so, that my being compelled to read and re-read, watch and re-watch, listen and re-listen, to the endless stories centering on this day has never let up. Perhaps it’s because it was so unbelievable an event; or perhaps it was because on that day it didn’t matter who you were, but life from that point forward was different. No one could witness that and not have some reaction or behavioral change, even if only for a moment. It was an event that made us all operate on the one level: we were all, plain and simple, human.
Now, fourteen years later, I find myself living in this great city of New York, and reminders of the event are surreptitiously seen almost everywhere, if you want to see them. Walking past the local FDNY stations, plaques mark and remember those who fell in the line of duty; stories of those affected or involved, pop up in local news channels, some happy, most sad; eyes cast south down the island of Manhattan fall upon the new One World Trade Center building, inevitably sparking the internal wonder of how must it have looked when the Twin Towers stood there, and how hard it is to imagine what it was like for the people of Manhattan when the buildings disappeared in a cloud of dust.
Of course, mentioning the event to those old and new to the city inevitably evolves to discussions on who was actually responsible for the devastation. The truthers argue it was the government; the government and its supporters argue it was a team of terrorists; each camp has their arguments and evidence about how it happened, and I have with curiosity observed arguments from both sides. With so much contrary information out there, as well as so little information about what those inside may actually have faced, it is hard to know with conviction what exactly happened. What I do know, though, is that there was huge loss of life, and it should not have happened at all.
But today should not be about pointing fingers for who was responsible, or what cover ups did or did not occur. Today should be remembering the close to 3000 people who lost their lives by simply doing what most of us do: heading to work and going about our usual day. Almost 3000 people – that’s 3000 stories never continued, that we never had the opportunity to further read, listen or watch unfold; 3000 stories that ended far too soon.
Of course, every death is a tragedy, and this day should also be a reminder for all those who we loved and lost, not just on September 11 2001, but on all days near and far to today. It is also an opportunity for us to show compassion for those that need the good of humankind more than ever. Let’s not ignore the desperate migrants trying to reach new lands, grasping for some glimmer of hope of living where there is no war or suppression; the women, children and disabled suffering abuse at the hands of those with more ‘power’; the sick, who by the sad fortunes of life may never recover. If we can do anything for the almost 3000 people who never awoke on September 12, surely we can at least do that. For today is so much more than a day of remembrance for the sad and futile loss of life: today serves as reminder that we are in fact human, and that at any point, our lives can change forever. And that is, as humans, something we should Never Forget.