It was after 2:00 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time (after 9:00 a.m. EST) on September 11, 2001. I was on vacation in England.
My British friend and I had driven to Bexleyheath that morning to run some errands and for me to mail off some postcards back to friends and family members in the U.S. After coming back to her suburban house, eating lunch and clearing it away, I went upstairs to the bedroom where I was staying to read and doze a little. My British friend and her hubby turned on the TV in their sitting room, preparing to watch a video.
Then British hubby knocked on the door: “I think you’d better come and see this. American and Canadian airports are closed.” He was something of a jokester, so at first I thought he was kidding.
They had turned on the news and I was surprised to see that the Twin Towers were on fire. Even more surprising was to see the spectacular and tragic collapse of both buildings. I felt my jaw drop and I protested to my friends, “Whoa! I can’t believe they actually collapsed! I’ve been there and those buildings are so HUGE!”
In the days that followed — cut off from my normal news sources — I was hungry for knowledge. I read newspaper articles and watched TV news reports to find out how and why it all happened. I remember one report of British generosity that I loved — a U.S. man was stuck in England because he couldn’t fly home, so a local firefighter station gave him a place to sleep until things got sorted out.
I was also touched to see the reactions of the British people and I still remember what it was like, 11 years later. Condolence books appeared in churches and other buildings. Flowers, U.K. flags and U.S. flags appeared outside the American embassy. Church services were held. Some British people came up to me when they heard my American accent and expressed their sorrow. These people were complete strangers to me, but they still wanted to do something.
By now, I’ve watched tons of documentaries and read books about September 11, so I understand more about the events of that day. Two of the best books that I’ve read are New York, September 11 by Magnum Photographers and 9-11: Artists Respond, Volume 1 by Will Eisner, P. Craig Russell, John McCrae and Eric Powell. I recommend both books if you’d like to read them.
And I’ve learned that I have strange links to September 11:
1) A family friend of mine grew up in Shanksville, PA, where Flight 93 crashed.
2) Two young men from my college were in the World Trade Center buildings when they collapsed.
3) One of my uncles, who lives in the DC metro area, was outside that morning and heard Flight 77 crash into the Pentagon.
I was fortunate; I didn’t lose anyone I knew during September 11. But for those people who didn’t survive September 11, please honor their memory and pay tribute by performing one small act of kindness today. Something as small as a hug to a surviving friend or family member can mean a lot.