On September 11th, 2001, I was home with my two children, then aged five and two. My husband was away with work, and at around 11.00pm, I was lying in bed with the television on, watching Channel 10’s late night news. Sandra Sully was delivering the headlines, and suddenly breaking news was announced, and the screen shifted to vision of smoke plumes streaming out of one of the buildings of the World Trade Centre. The word was that a light plane had flown into the building, but even then, I was wondering how a small plane could cause so much damage. Channel Ten toggled between Australian news and what was happening in New York, and on one cross back to the scene, I saw a large passenger plane fly behind the South Tower, and then just disappear. Smoke began streaming, and my first thought was ‘this is no accident, it’s a terrorist attack.’

For the next three and a half hours, I lay there, fixed to the screen, watching first the South Tower, and then the North, come crashing down. What I was witnessing was unthinkable. Those towers represented the might of the United States, a nation that seemed impenetrable. Reports were coming in that people were jumping from the towers. Again, unthinkable. The news shifted to the Pentagon, where something had happened to cause a huge rupture in another symbol of the might of the USA. As news came in that another plane had been hijacked and was heading to Washington DC, it seemed that we were potentially on the brink of World War III. I surrendered to sleep,  knowing that the world that would meet me in the daylight would be markedly different from anything I had ever encountered.

For the next few days, I saw that unthinkable footage over and over, until discussion started to surface that maybe those scenes were too damaging for young eyes, and older eyes too.

My immediate experience of 9/11 was just me and television commentary. I was by myself, my husband was away, and I had no-one to talk through what I was witnessing. 10 years on, I am following Jeff Jarvis’ tweets about his experiences that morning. My twitter stream is full of people’s memories of that day.

@jeffjarvis If we’d had Twitter and cameras and been connected that day, the world’s view of 9/11 would have been at eye-level. #911

@ASE: It was only a matter of a couple weeks after #911 that my name, Ahmed, became problematic while I was in undergrad. #racism

Will never forget the initial puzzled feeling when lined up to give blood and found out–so horrible and telling– there was no need.#911

campbellsuz  The water memorial at Ground Zero looks beautiful; families trace the names of loved ones etched in bronze with pencils and paper#911
My thoughts go to all those affected by this disaster, both in the United States, and in every country with citizens who were involved. I think too, of the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the loss of innocent human life in those countries after 9/11. It has impacted on us all. Our world is different, our approach to life is different. I still think of the potential of a terrorist attack whenever I attend an occasion that brings large swathes of people together. Prior to 9/11, thoughts like these never really crossed my mind.
The world suffers from the actions of the few. Now we are hearing of those in the immediate vicinity on the day who are suffering from lung diseases and cancers from the toxic dust cloud they encountered.
9/11 is a disaster that will continue to haunt us all for many years to come.

5 Replies to “9/11”

  1. It is interesting to hear the perceptions of those who were physically so far away compared to those of us who were impacted so immediately. I wrote blog post about 9/11 in 2009 and I think it put it away for me. It took me 8 years to put enough distance away from me to be able to write about it. But, those of us who were close enough to be personally affected also are able to get our stories out. I did not personally lose someone in the twin towers or the Pentagon, but I had students and friends that did. Surprisingly, the only person I knew personally in the attacks was in the Pentagon when it was hit.

    The use of the cell phone changed here in the Northeast. After 911, cells, which were banned in many schools, were allowed with restrictions. However, for a week after 911 community was very important.

  2. The personal accounts of 9/11 connect us to experiences we in Australia only have through media and internet. So many people have likened this event to war. For example, Sherry Turkle’s post

    I used to wonder what it must have been like for my family who were fleeing and starving and dying during WW2 and wondered if and when my peaceful life would change, and felt guilty. I still feel guilty when I see and read how events like 9/11 have affected people. And I wonder what kind of world my children have been born into.

    1. As we lived so closely through 9/11, I was very surprised at the responses of my students, family, friends, and society. I had been an auditor in Europe in the 1980’s during an especially violent year with countless terrorist attacks in many of the airports I flew out of. I worked at a facility in Costa Rica that had been bombed a few months before I arrived, working with those that had survived the bombs. A person that goes through this experience learns to push the everyday fear to the back of their minds, yet are always on alert for possible acts of violence. Speak to anyone who lived in London or Paris in the 80’s and 90’s and they will tell you that this is how they learned to survive the multiple bombings.

      I actually was able to deal better than many of my colleagues because of my experience. I guess, as you point out, until you experience that fear, it is difficult to relate to it. However, the fact that you have the empathy and skills to try to relate to these periods of time or place to relate to that feeling will prepare you if you ever have to go through it yourself. I don’t think you should feel guilty. And the best thing we can do for our children is to remind them that war is destructive, there are people out there who are suffering, and we need to be engaged with people outside of our own communities and comfort zone if we want to live in a peaceful society.

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