All over the internet, people are remembering 9/11. Though I’m a country away, and may not have been impacted as much as our neighbours to the south, I remember too.
It was Nikki’s first day of kindergarten. Few thoughts were on my mind that morning, other than the milestone of sending our first child to school. I don’t have a strong recollection of seeing her off at school, but I’m sure that she was stoic and composed. Beneath the exterior, though, she was probably stressing about whether she’d put her shoes in the right place, whether she had the “right” kind of backpack, and whether she’d know how to follow all the teacher’s instructions correctly. Few things worry her more than staying within the framework of the rules.
I left her there and jumped in the van to head downtown to my office. On the radio, the first hint that there was something seriously wrong was the unmasked emotion in the voice of the radio announcer. She was fighting tears as she relayed the story of the plane hitting one of the towers. In retrospect, I suppose she wasn’t one of the more experienced announcers – she hadn’t learned to mask her own connection to a story.
As I drove, I had the eerie feeling that the world had just changed. An office tower had been hit by a plane. This meant that there was no safety anywhere anymore. A plane could drop out of the sky and hit my van. I could step out of the elevator in the office tower where I worked, and watch a plane fly through the window. I, along with every other person in North America (or anywhere else, for that matter), was vulnerable.
I arrived at work late, and few people had heard the news yet. Once in my office, I turned on the TV (yes, I had a TV in my office because I worked in media relations and had to watch the news now and then), and people started congregating around me. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. As we watched, the second tower was hit. This was no longer a random accident.
Throughout the day, the TV stayed on in my office. I tried to work, but was constantly interrupted by people stopping by to catch glimpses of what was going on. There was a subdued air in the office. No one knew what to say.
On the way home from work that day, I wrestled with what to tell the children. Though Nikki was only 5 at the time, she was incredibly perceptive and I knew that she would hear about this and would worry. I had to tell her at least some portion of the truth so that she would be prepared when she heard about it through a classmate or teacher. When I picked her up at daycare, I explained what happened in simple terms. “Some bad people flew planes into some very tall buildings. A lot of people died in those buildings.” “But why mommy? Why would bad people do that?” “I’m not sure, honey. Sometimes people get angry at other people and they want to hurt them because of their anger.”
Shortly after we got home, I noticed her at the front window, watching a fire truck go by. “Mommy,” she said, “are those fire trucks going to the towers?” Hmmm… I guess I forgot to tell her that the tall buildings were in a city far away from here. The questions didn’t stop there. They never do. Throughout the following week, she pestered me again and again, especially when she caught sight of the news reports. She needed some understanding of why something like this could happen. Did the bad people have families? Where did the bad people live? Did they rescue anyone alive from the towers? If it happened THERE, could it happen HERE?
Around the same time, my sister and I were planning a trip to New York City. Our initial plans, in fact, would have meant that we’d have been there around the time the towers came down. I didn’t want to miss the start of kindergarten, though, so we delayed our plans. Now we didn’t know whether we could go through with it or not. With planes grounded all over North America, it wasn’t clear when or if our trip would happen.
A lot of people thought we were crazy for still considering a trip to New York City, but we decided to go through with our plans anyway. We were not about to let fear diminish our lives. After all, didn’t Rudolph Guiliani and the President tell people to keep visiting, keep shopping, and keep attending the theatre? And wouldn’t New York City be one of the safest places in the world in the aftermath of the tragedy?
At the end of October, we visited NYC as planned. We were greeted at the airport by soldiers with machine guns, something I’d never seen in a North American airport before. Times had changed.
We went to the theatre, we shopped, we took tours on a double-decker bus and a boat, and we wandered around Central Park. We did all the things tourists do. We enjoyed ourselves, and we fell in love with a big beautiful city whose heart still beat with a bold, indomitable pulse. We listened to people’s stories of the New York that was, we saw the memorials in front of fire stations, and we honoured the hurt all around us. We saw the smoke rise from the gaping sore in the city’s centre. We smelled the faint scent of death and destruction. We didn’t get very close to ground zero (I was pregnant at the time and had doctor’s orders not to walk too far), but through the surrounding towers, we glimpsed those infamous remaining beams marking its place.
After visiting New York City, it wasn’t hard to understand why that city had been targeted by the terrorists. If you want to hurt someone, you aim for the heart. NYC has a lot of heart. It’s a vibrant, pulsing city, and its pain would (and did) reverberate across the country and beyond.
Today, five years after the fact, I don’t want to forget, but at the same time, I can’t help thinking it’s time to move forward. Although the loss of 2996 lives is tragic beyond measure, I find it even more tragic that, in the 5 years since, a culture of fear has been used by political heavyweights to justify hatred and the abuse of power. I’m sick and tired of hearing about the “axis of evil”. We all know that words are powerful things, and if we are continuosly reminded of the evil threats against our countries, we can’t help but start to believe it. On this, the fifth anniversary of 9/11, I sincerely wish that old language could be set aside for a new language – one that builds on hope, justice, and compassion instead of fear, evil, and hatred.