Posts Tagged ‘New York’
I suppose my reflections on September 11 2001 will be just one tiny grain of sand in a sea of memories marking that date this year. For whatever reason, humans have a habit of marking events in blocks of time – nothing wrong with that – I guess they’re sign posts to stop and really give thought, to ponder and to take stock. In the ten years that have passed since that horrible day, many more people have lost their lives in dreadful ways than did on September 11th. Nature’s fury, nature’s growing pains – maybe even nature’s revenge – not to mention those lost in acts of warfare.
I can’t help but ponder what it was about that day that made it more shocking and horrible for me than all others.
The second week of Spring in Australia, it started out as a pretty average day. I worked late that Tuesday night, getting home at about 9.30pm. After having a late dinner, I switched on the telly and ‘Rove’ was on. Padding into the computer room which was right next to the lounge, I could still hear the television – Rove was interviewing Haley Joel Osment – but I paid little attention, mindlessly tapping away at the computer. About 10.40pm Rove ended, and the Channel Ten news came on with Sandra Sully hosting.
At 10.50pm, my ears pricked up when Sandra cut into the bulletin to announce that something had happened at the World Trade Centre. In the seconds it took me to peer around the door to the TV set, they had already crossed to live footage of the smoking tower and in a finger snap I knew this was really bad.
At the time my partner was Adam, and I was due to leave to pick him up from the performing arts centre where he was rehearsing. I grabbed my mobile to call him, and tell him I was on my way. To hurry up outside as I wanted (almost needed) to get home quick. I told him I was watching the news live, and that a passenger jet had crashed into The World Trade Centre, and it was bad, really bad. At first he didn’t believe me, but I think my non-joking voice told him I wasn’t pissing around.
Driving down to the theatre is a ten minute round trip, and when he hopped in the car Adam told me no one in the theatre would believe him when he relayed what I was watching. Before I left home I had put a video tape in the machine and pressed record.
I’d left the tv on and walking into the room the tv was now showing both towers alight. I was completely puzzled as when I’d left there was only one ablaze. I had no idea how this had happened. I vividly recall turning to Adam and saying ‘The fire must have leapt across from the other tower!’. We sat down and stared at the screen open mouthed – we were watching this in real time, or that should probably be (sur)real time. Within seconds, they replayed the footage of the plane hitting the second tower. I knew then the world had changed, and at that point I started shaking – full body trembles – I guess it was in a clinical sense ‘shock’.
I know others were feeling the same, as at times like this the phone was running hot ‘Are you watching this!?’ I’d be curious to see the spike in phone usage during those hours.
I grew up in the era of ‘Ron Raygun’s’ Star Wars, when America and Russia had enough bombs to Nuke the world into oblivion and back. I have a vivid memory of sitting in my second year class at school – I would have been seven – and Cathy Pepper leant over to me and said ‘Did you know there are bombs that can blow up the whole world?’. Even through a child’s mind and perception that sent a chill through me.
Sitting in front of the tv all these years later, I felt that old familiar chill. I was scared. I was scared the world was changing before my eyes. I was scared for the comfort I knew. I was scared for what was happening to the people on the screen in front of me. And mostly I was scared of war. I thought ‘This is going to unleash a shit storm, the likes of which we’ve never seen’. The images playing out before my eyes were surreal, you see Hollywood disaster flicks but you never think for a second they would come true.
It really was a nightmare to watch play out, to the point I felt numb. The two towers, the Pentagon, the first tower falling, the second tower falling. I guess I sat there till about 3.00am before going to bed.
I remember waking and thinking ‘Did that really just happen last night?’, and also the fear of what else may have happened in the few hours I slept.
So now, ten years later, do we know what really happened? How? Or why? Does it matter? I guess for me the one question that swirls in my mind is the ‘Why?’. What message or lesson were we supposed to take from that horror? Was I too arrogant to think ‘How dare someone attack us’? Were we (or was I) too complacent about the horrors of warfare? It’s so clinical now.
You don’t see nightly reports on the news about civilian tolls in far flung places. The soldiers are now all specialists – it’s not just the boy next door going to war – we’re quarantined from the reality of what is going on in the name of war. I’m not for a second saying this was the way we needed to learn, I’m just trying to make sense of the ‘why’. It was all too close to home. I have two best friends who were there, one a week or so before, and another who was there on the day, literally in the building opposite.
You see natural disasters on tv and think ‘That couldn’t happen to me, I live in a city’, but when you see buildings like the ones we all work in, planes we all fly in, streets we all walk on become the battle fields, then all bets are off. This truly can happen to any of us, and the levels of unimaginable pain – and more than anything, prolonged torturous terror – is what tips the scales for me. It puts Sept 11th in a whole other field of trauma and affront. The likes of which I simply cannot process, or make any sense of, beyond the crushing reality that many aspects and pockets of humanity, and mankind, have a very long way to go before they can be considered humane. I do not relate to the complexities, the passions, or the fervour that drive many people who inhabit this planet to act in such a violent, wicked and heartless way.
I know there are many beautiful people and souls that walk and live amongst us, but the fact that such man-made horror can be inflicted upon someone by his fellow man saddens me like nothing else. At these times I turn to music, and cling to the lyrics of The Beach Boys song ‘I Guess I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times’ because, when I see such horror as 9/11, I’m certain I’m living on the wrong planet.
A few weeks after the 2004 tsunami, I found myself standing on the headland overlooking Byron Bay. I was zoning out watching the surfers below me in the water – they were small little specs from this location. I was reminded that with just a little distance we’re all so incredibly tiny, and by pulling away not too much further we’re actually invisible. It was a moment where I was struck by the realisation of how vulnerable we are, how tiny we are in the big picture, no less important to it, but overall a grain of sand on this earth.
In 2005, I visited New York and ground zero. I went there with a heavy and mindful feeling about me. When I got to the end of the line, and saw the train tunnel boarded up, that was the first sign that I was in a place where something very amiss had occurred. As I walked the streets I noted that the true scale of what had happened here, and how I’d related to it from a great distance was not computing. I couldn’t truly fathom what had occurred on the streets where I was standing, even though I was staring at the end results.
Searching for a place to grab a bite to eat took me along the street bordering ground zero, and it was then seeing the façade of the shop fronts, pock marked with chunks of cement and stone gouged out of them, that I started to realised the magnitude of what had happened. The fire station next door to where I had lunch brought it all into much sharper focus. Peering into the front of the station, I could see the crushed front of a fire engine mounted on the wall in memoriam. The whole time I was there I determined I would not take any photos of the site, there was no need, it didn’t feel right. The one and only photo I did take was of a message written on a wall close by to ground zero, you can see it printed below.
One scene that did rattle me at The World Trade Centre site was the juxtaposition of photos pinned to the wall of those lost in the tragedy, and the souvenir photos and posters of the horror that hustlers and shysters had stuck up, and were selling to tourists. I’m all for freedom of speech and free enterprise, but I couldn’t help but wonder at what lay in the gap between myself (who wouldn’t take a photo of the site) to someone at the site using it as a marketing ploy. I guess it’s not my place to judge, but that was a hugely unsettling sight for me to see.
Soon after 9/11 my friend Beryl visited me at home. He pointed to the postcard pinned to my notice board that he’d mailed to me a couple of weeks before – from the top floor of the World Trade Centre. Here was the card intact, but most everyone and everything that had been associated with it had been destroyed, once more I was faced with the randomness of life. And now, ten years later I along with my loved ones are still all here, and relatively safe, or so I’d like to think, on 9/11 I didn’t think we would be. I’m grateful, and hopeful, but still dreadfully confused.
With love and respect to all those souls taken in acts of violence.