This is a bit of a stream of consciousness about September 11 as I remember it.
It’s weird how you always remember the big dates. Like 10 years ago on this day I was 15 years old. I wandered into Dad’s room before my School Certificate English exam and saw footage of the second plane hitting the twin towers over in America. Later that morning I went to school and found out a friend had died in an unrelated incident in Wellington, NZ. A bunch of girls went home crying. I chose to sit my exam, because when I was 15 my entire future happiness, prosperity, and peace felt like it hinged on that one English exam.
Looking back now I see how very narrow the world was back then for me. It wasn’t that I didn’t care about the events over in the US, it’s just that at 15, and in New Zealand, they were so very far away. They didn’t seem to mean anything tangible to me like my School Cert exam or a former school-mate’s death.
The next day the newspapers were plastered with photos and tributes, and astronomical death toll numbers. The TV played reruns, news updates, warnings, and exclusive interviews. I saw photos of people leaping out of windows. The Prime Minister made announcements, flights were grounded, the radio went nuts, the shoppers at the grocery store where I worked were subdued, and terrified, and desperate for water and canned goods, often shifting between the three emotions in a matter of moments.
That’s when the weight of it started to hit. That’s when it started to register as an Event for me.
As the confusion cleared and the numbers solidified, the stories started coming out from survivors, rescuers, loved ones. And that was awe-inspiring, and desperately sad, and I found myself emotionally invested… All the way from New Zealand, that was the first time I’d ever felt like a member of a global community. The first time I’d really taken notice of something happening outside of the boarders of my own small country, my own small life, and my own small worries.
Next up I learned (in quick succession) about things like war, jihad, terrorism, racism, and about what fear can do to cultural difference…. And that was terrifying. All of a sudden the world was talking about war, and it wasn’t in a past tense. I mean I was aware that conflict was happening all around the world while I hung out in the photography lab, and rode horses, but I’d never actually understood what that meant before… In a way I still don’t. I definitely don’t understand the catastrophic loss of life that day (and the days since.) I can’t conceive of the sheer number of dead in my brain. It’s not something I can visualise – one death, yes. Two, maybe… But a hundred? Two hundred? Four thousand? I don’t even know what to do with numbers like that. They’re so very removed from any experience I’ve had so far.
So what do you do with that? I mean, if there’s no way I can conceive of the loss, and the hurt, and the terror that followed September 11, how on earth do I express my sorrow for it? Saying ‘sorry’ seems inadequate. And sadly naive. I can’t say I know exactly how those affected feel, because, well nobody knows that. It’s an intensely personal thing, that each and every person feels individually. I can’t hope to have the same understanding of the event that an American has. That a firefighter has, or that a Londoner has. It’s just impossible.
So while knowing there’s absolutely nothing I can do to make it better. Nothing I can do to switch back the clock. Nothing I can say to ease the pain… I thought I’d sit down and write about what September 11 meant to me – as a 15 year old New Zealand high school student.
September 11 served as an awakening for me. It was the end of blissful ignorance about the world around me, and the beginning of seeing the world in a wider, scarier way. So this September 11 I took a few moments to think about the people who died, and the people left behind missing them. And I took a moment to be grateful for what I have, for the people I have in my life, and for the country I live in.
Where were you on September 11? What are you grateful for today?