I don’t have any grand or notable memories from 11th September 2001. I wasn’t connected to New York in any personal way but this last Friday, after work, I spent the evening by coincidence with the friend whom I spent the evening of the 11th September 2001 with.
We spoke about our collective and individual memories of that day. The interesting thing was how we remembered different aspects. She told me she remembered I seemed a lot more shell-shocked than her – but I’m getting a little ahead of myself.
I wasn’t at work that day. I was about to go on holiday and was at my dad’s house. My dad was out so I was just pottering around between packing up things I needed (I’d been staying with him) and well, just enjoying not working.
We’ve always been a family of news junkies and my dad had Sky (which I didn’t at the time) so I generally had the rolling news channel on as a default and indeed, I was watching the rolling news from the moment the very first news came in that a plane had hit the first tower. In fact, I was one of those people calling people I knew and telling them to put on the television because I couldn’t explain what I was seeing.
So there I was, watching the live television pictures when the second plane hit the second tower, and when the towers collapsed and for all the aftermath. It happened as I was watching and honestly, I felt scared. It’s interesting to recall because of course the distance was so great but as I was watching the rumours starting about how many planes there were, where the planes were going, what was happening – or then the wackier ones (retrospectively) like Canary Wharf being targeted.
My friend and I had been intending to go to the cinema that evening. We didn’t. I told her I really didn’t want to go out into central London. I can’t explain my feelings of the time. As we met this weekend, she said she thought because I had been watching the entire television coverage, I felt a greater immediacy and a greater link to what had happened. For her, she told me, they had been told at work and it didn’t quite seem real.
Regardless it felt as if the world was a different place. In the end, we met in a small local restaurant and chatted. It felt somehow more respectful in an odd way. I’d been to New York about a year previously and had been up the Twin Towers – I’d got pictures of me standing at the top and bought some of the usual tat I return from holidays with at the gift shop up there. I thought about the people who would have served me and who smiled at me. Then I tried not to. I didn’t though have any personal connection with New York. I didn’t know anyone who lived there or who might have been involved in the destruction that unfolded.
I wonder if it is the watching of televisual events unfolding that brings some of the tragedy closer and I wonder how that will impact on the ways that these kinds of effects have a greater terror when we see up close, the faces of people affected and relate to them.
I know, the day that New York was attacked, I felt that we – myself, my country, the type of cosy life we had got used to, were under attack too. The world had changed. The world was a scarier place.
As an aftermath – I spent some time in the Family Support Centre after the London Bombings on the 7th July 2005. When I was there I had a few discussions with those in the various local authorities who had co-ordinated the response for families and victims and pulled together a joint London protocol. Apart from the fact that there are lessons that how can said to have been learnt from the inquest, many of the initial lessons were learnt in discussion with colleagues in the United States about coordinating post-disaster/attack. The impact was more than local it was international.
As for anniversaries, they are always difficult but today my thoughts are resolutely in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania – as well as those affected all over the work – just as they were ten years ago and many years in between.
There is more than unites us than divides us.