Today marks the 10th anniversary of that terrible morning when the world as we knew it changed forever. This was our generation’s J.F.K. assassination moment. It seems a little obvious and easy to write a post on 9/11. What can I bring to the discussion that hasn’t already been said? I guess just my own memory of that day.
Where were you when it happened? I had just started my first year at law school. We were just into our first week. Why was I even in law school? I guess that’s a topic for another post. Marla woke up first and told me she had the strangest, unsettling dream of a plane crashing into a building. She didn’t normally tell me about her nightmares and dreams, so it was remarkable that she would share this with me that particular morning. I don’t normally put the TV on in the morning, but for some reason I had CNN on and was hit with the images of the first tower in flames. I couldn’t make sense of it. Was this an accidental fire, a bomb? I called Marla into the room to see this. If nothing else, this was a huge disaster. Then we saw the second plane hit. It happened right as we were watching, no different than my Mom seeing Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald 38 years earlier on TV when she got home from church Sunday afternoon.
I still went into class, I didn’t know what else to do. Surprisingly, classes carried on as normal, although a TV was wheeled into the student common room and we would get quick updates in the hallway. “The first tower fell.” “The pentagon was hit by another plane”. “Both towers fell”. “Another plane crashed on its way to hitting the White House or the Capitol”.
That night, the Winnipeg Free Press issued a special evening edition. I don’t know the last time we saw a special edition newspaper here. It sounds like something that was done in an age before the internet. In addition to images and commentaries, there was already a full-page profile on Osama Bin Laden. It was as if the decision on who did it was made before the dust had even literally settled. More telling was in the days and weeks ahead when intelligent people asked intelligent questions, there were silenced and side-lined. Case in point, New Jersey’s Poet Laureate Amiri Baraka, who lost his position and received death threats after he published his response to 9/11. “Somebody Blew Up America“.
My brother was coming home from a week-long missionary style trip sponsored by the United Church of Canada in Kenya and The Sudan, and was changing planes in Amsterdam on the morning of September 11th. He actually was in the air en route to Toronto when the pilot came on over the intercom and said “America is under attack, so we’re returning to Amsterdam”. I still find it hard to believe that the pilot actually said that, but my brother, being Irish, won’t let the truth get in the way of a good story. His plane dumped its fuel over the Atlantic and made the 180 degree turn back. He spent four days stationed at the Amsterdam airport before he could get a flight home.
My Mom was actually in Halifax when it happened. My brother was beginning his third year at Emmanuel College at the University of Toronto. He was training to be a United Church minister and his year was to be spent as a student minister in Halifax. My Mom had driven his truck out so that he would have it for the year and she was spending a few days visiting her friends, Christine and Sandy. Dozens of planes from Europe destined for New York were rerouted to the relatively tiny Halifax airport. Sandy was a Presbyterian minister and was on an emergency call list set up after the Swissair crash three years earlier off the coast near Peggy’s Cove. My Mom and Sandy drove out to the airport and ended up taking a couple of boarders who were stuck with nowhere to go. As it turned out, Sandy and Christine played host to a young Israeli woman and an older Palestinian man, both of whom were on the same Tel Aviv-New York flight. They stayed for a whole week. My Mom didn’t get home until a week after she had planned either. The 9/11 refugees had to return to Israel and begin their journey fresh, as they weren’t allowed to clear customs. A small inconvenience compared to what others suffered. My Mom says she wished she had recorded the conversations they had. “It would have made a good stage play”, she said. This phrase is often used by my Mom to indicate something special and important.
I’m reminded by a quote around this time:
“An attack on one is an attack on all.” — NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson, Sept. 12, 2001.
Where were you on September 11, 2001?