Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Day The World Stood Still

I remember September 11, 2001. I didn't need to be American. I didn't need to live in New York, or work in Washington, or know anyone on United Airlines Flight 93. But I remember September 11 all the same.

In September, 2001, Lori was still on parental leave. On that Tuesday morning, Sarah was just shy of six months. Because Lori was at home with our first daughter, I would wake early in the morning and be out the door shortly after six, catching my bus and arriving at the office by 7:00 a.m. When I took the bus to work, I liked to arrive before most of my coworkers would be there; I could often get so much done in my first hour to hour and a half.

On September 11, 2001, as those around my desk were arriving—most around 8:30 or so—I felt that I had accomplished quite a bit. It was going to be a good, productive day.

It was about five minutes before nine when Lori called me. She had been at home, preparing breakfast for herself and for Sarah, who was only recently starting solid food. As part of her morning ritual, Lori was listening to Ottawa Morning on CBC Radio One. Then host, John Lacharity, was wrapping up his morning broadcast, talking with John Hancock about the latest sports reports, when Lacharity announced that he received news that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center. Lori heard the news and then turned on the TV, tuned to CBC Television. And there, on a beautiful, sunny day, smoke billowed from a gaping hole in one of the twin towers. Lori picked up the phone and called me.

As soon as I heard the news, I turned to the Internet and tried to see what CNN had to say. The Internet was slow, but when I reached the home page there was just a short paragraph that confirmed what Lori said; it provided no other information, nor images.

It was just a minute or two after nine. Lori was relating what she was seeing on television and what the reporters were saying. I asked her to turn up the volume so that I could hear the news directly. I also told my coworkers what Lori had told me. Meanwhile, the Internet all but ground to a halt.

What I heard next chilled me. "Someone filmed the plane as it hit the building. They're playing it now.... no, wait... the other building is already on fire. Another plane just flew into the other tower... oh my God, another plane crashed into the World Trade Center!"

Time stood still. Reporters were frantic. Speculation and rumours flew. The Internet was locked up. I chatted with coworkers, relaying what I heard through the phone. I chatted on MSN with a friend who was hearing similar reports, who heard that another plane had crashed in Washington—possibly the White House or the Capitol Building. Then confirmation that it was actually the Pentagon.

Just an hour or so after Lori first called me, she cried out. "It's falling, Ross, oh my God, it's falling." She cried. I could hear Sarah crying, her response to hearing her mother.

Work ground to a halt. I couldn't think about anything else, especially after learning about the crash in Pennsylvania and after the second tower fell. So much destruction. So much death. By lunch time, we were told to go home. No one was working, so it was best to be with loved ones. To try and make some sense out of the day's events.

What had been committed by a small group of radicals, who had such a hate-on for our way of life, had changed the world forever. The attacks of that day were committed on American soil but Americans weren't the only victims. People of many nationalities and religions died in the attacks. Twenty-four Canadians died in the World Trade Center. So many people were affected, directly and indirectly. When I thought of New York City, after the towers fell, I thought of the times I had been there, of the times I had gone to the top of the World Trade Center. I wondered if there was anyone that I knew who was affected.

One of my best friends was teaching nearby, in New Jersey. One of his students had a mother who worked in the World Trade Center. In the confusion, as this student tried to find her mother, she managed to reach one of her mother's coworkers, who said that her mother had made it out of the building, had been last seen on the plaza. But when the towers fell, the mother was never seen again. It was surmised that she just didn't get far enough away, that she, like so many others, were confident that the towers wouldn't come down.

The repercussions of that day were felt around the world. Countries rallied around the U.S. Many went to Afghanistan and are still there. Airport security is heightened around the globe. And no one has forgotten.

Last summer, I returned to New York for the first time since before the attacks. When we reached Ground Zero, I couldn't bring myself to look. The closest we got was St. Paul's Chapel. Lori, the girls, and I saw the memorial set of for the victims and for the firefighters, and we walked around the old cemetery grounds, all which surprisingly survived the falling towers. But I would not cross the street, would not look at the gaping hole, at the void across the street.

Except once, when I looked up at the sky, and I remembered the towers that once loomed above.

One this tenth anniversary of the attacks, I remember. I live a seven-hour drive away from New York City, but in a way, on that day, I felt I was there. Listening through the phone at the television, hearing Lori's scream, I was there. Feeling the horror, I was there.

We all were. For anyone who felt the humanity, we were there. We were all there on the day that the world stood still. And we're all there on this day, as the world moves forward. And remembers.

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