We happened to be in New York for Christmas. After the loss of his father, my husband wanted to be far far away from home and all the reminders that Christmas would bring, of happy family times spent together. So we decided that a visit to the Big Apple was in order.
Ironically, however, it brought home to me the memory of another loss.
Our room overlooked the 9/11 Memorial. They are now twin reflecting pools, nearly an acre in size, featuring large manmade waterfalls, and sitting within the footprints of where the Twin Towers once stood. My daughters were curious about them, standing as they were amidst all the sky scrapers and the construction that surrounded these pools of serenity. I gave them a broad overview of what had happened, sparing them the horror of the carnage, the sheer scale of devastation, the disbelief of watching these buildings collapse upon themselves.
Certain events in History have a way of etching themselves into one’s mind forever. Every generation has its seminal moment. People talk about where they were when Kennedy was assassinated, or when they heard of Elvis’ death. 9/11 is another one of those instances. I remember being at the US embassy in London, renewing my visa. Back in the day, it was straight forward enough. There was a token nod to security. Key fobs and mobile phones were allowed in. How soon all that was to change.
My overriding memory though, is of being at my friend’s, and her getting a call from the US, saying, “Switch on the Television!!”. It was just after lunch, a little after 2pm in the UK. Our mouths fell open as we watched the first plane hit the Tower, and then shortly after, the second follow suit. Was it an accident, we wondered. Who could have done this? Why?? Then, as the blaze ate through the innards of these imposing buildings, and they started to crumble, our shock turned to disbelief! The aftermath of those events have been documented well enough. Yet, in that instant, that particular moment, we all felt a shift. A certain knowing that somehow the world had turned on its axis, and things would never be the same again.
I visited the site in December 2001, with some colleagues. We were given access with our id’s. It was still too recent a catastrophe to completely absorb the impact it would have in the years to come. Three months on, there was still an acrid smell of burnt metal and flesh that shrouded the area. We did not visit it as a curiosity. We visited it as a shrine. To pay homage to our fallen colleagues, who had woken up that day to go to work, with no idea that they would never return. We had stood there in silence, holding hands, our heads bowed, an avalanche of unexplained feelings rushing through us.
Twelve years on, I stood in my room on the 18th floor, with a birds eye view of the Memorial. There were queues of tourists snaking around, waiting their turn to walk about , read the names inscribed, exclaim over the events of that day. I looked down upon those beautiful pools of water, and felt the same sadness I had felt all those years ago.
Innocent lives lost to what avail? How many more 9/11’s will it take before we wake up to the realisation that terrorism is not the answer?