I am sure we all remember what we were doing on this day 10 years ago. 9/11 was, it seemed, one of those dates on which the world shifted sideways, and things would never be quite the same again.
My then husband was in New York, working in an office in midtown. We had spent most of the previous 18 months living in the city, in a small apartment on West 11th St in Greenwich Village. I had enthusiastically taken to life in New York – running in Central Park, rollerblading along the Hudson, working out at Crunch on Christopher Street, dining in many of the hole-in-the-wall restaurants in the West Village and clubbing at Lotus in the Meatpacking District.
But I was temporarily back in Britain for a walking holiday in Scotland, and was out for a solitary hike that day. I had my mobile phone with me, and the first I knew of the disaster was when I came up out of a valley, a reception blackspot, and my phone beeped to let me know I had a voicemail. It was my sister, asking if I had heard the news from New York. No details. What news? I wondered. Was my husband okay?
A bit later my phone rang. I saw it was an international call and picked up, but promptly lost the signal. I knew it was probably my husband. As the day wore on, the story slowly unfolded. Phone calls and voicemails from anxious friends revealed that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. Then a second plane. That was when I turned around and headed back towards the guest house where I was staying. This was evidently no accident, and I needed to know what was going on.
More calls came through as I walked the eight miles back. It was a very strange feeling – my body was walking through the beautiful Scottish countryside, surrounded by mountains and heather and autumn-gold bracken, but my mind was completely absorbed with thoughts of New York. Everybody knew we were based in Manhattan, and were concerned for our safety. I heard that one of the towers had collapsed. Then that the second tower had gone down.
I arrived back at the guest house and sat in front of the TV, mesmerised by what I was seeing. I couldn’t believe it was real. It looked more like a Bruce Willis movie. By now I had spoken to my husband and knew he was safe. He was rattled – he had been able to see it all happening from the windows of his midtown office, and that night he would not be allowed through the cordons to get back to our apartment – but he had been safely away from danger.
I sat and watched the TV coverage, again and again. The plane. The explosion. The smoke. Dust-covered survivors. I yearned to be there, to do anything I could to help. I felt as if a close friend were in trouble, and I was stuck 3,000 miles away, unable to reach out and help ease the pain. It would be another 6 weeks before I was able to get on a flight to New York, and I found a city that seemed to have lost its usual vivacity. My New York friends seemed subdued, humbled, indignant. St Vincent’s Hospital was at the end of our street, and I stood and looked at the wall of photographs and messages from relatives still desperately hoping to find survivors. I went to Ground Zero and saw the jagged, charred remains. Some people might have thought it was ghoulish to visit the site, but to me, it felt like a pilgrimage.
So why am I telling you all this? Three reasons, I suppose. The first is that reliving our experience of the events in question is the natural human way of marking such occasions, and I felt the need to do the same – and the dorados were not an especially sympathetic audience. The second reason is that I wanted my American readers to know that, even though I am a Brit, for a while back there I was a New Yorker, and felt the events of 9/11 as keenly as any American.
And the third reason is this: to ask now, ten years on, after much more blood has been shed in direct and indirect consequence of 9/11, what the longer term consequences of that day might be. Was it truly an ideologically-motivated attack on the values, morals and lifestyle of the West? Or was it something else – maybe something even more cynical? How deep, and how widespread, are the fracture lines that have radiated out from that single day of violence? Was it a one-off tragedy, or will it prove to have long-lasting repercussions?
I’d be interested to know what the media commentary is like. I believe that 60 Minutes is doing a big 9/11 feature. A short summary of their analysis would be much appreciated.
By serendipity, the book I am listening to at the moment – “The Unthinkable” by Amanda Ripley (see below) includes several interviews with 9/11 survivors. The book is about disasters and how humans react to them – and, most interestingly, how we can respond better when catastrophe strikes. It seems that, like many things, we can improve our resilience through training. By gaining experience in stressful situations, we can become better at handling them. So, on that basis, after 6 years of braving everything the capricious ocean can throw at me, I should be in good shape come what may.
The chaps downstairs are getting ever more boisterous – and ever more numerous. There must have been about twenty dorados milling around today, flicking water at me with their tails, and bumping against the boat. I do hope they are keeping the barnacles at bay.
I saw a ship today – the first one I have seen since setting out from the Abrolhos over four months ago. It looked like a large cargo ship, heading the same way as I am. I didn’t hail them. Just didn’t feel the urge.
Rachel in the Maldives – I’m afraid you would have to have very good eyesight indeed to see me from where you are. But I’m glad that your students are learning from my experiences – no matter where I may be!
Laurey – so very good to hear you sounding strong and optimistic. Tremendously pleased to hear you’ll be with us for a good long while yet. You’re a true inspiration.
Bob – “usufruct” – what a fantastic word. I also like the Native American philosophy that land cannot be “owned”, any more than the air or the sun can be owned. It is there to enable life, and as such belongs to all of us.
Stephen – since when has ANY word in the political arena been used to mean what it should mean?! 🙂
Quote for the day: “War would end if the dead could return.” (Stanley Baldwin)
Sponsored Miles: An anonymous donor sponsored ten of yesterday’s miles. From the higher numbers beyond Roz’s destination, thanks go to Keith Arnold.