A British story from September 11, 2001

The Twin Towers from the water.

The Twin Towers from the water. Image courtesy of npclark2k, Morguefile.

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.

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “A British story from September 11, 2001

  1. Such a terrible day. We were even affected by it here in South Africa. Quite a few South Africans died that day, including two that I knew. So far away and yet so much affected by it!

  2. It’s amazing how the world came together that day, but a shame it took such a tragedy to make it happen. I’m glad you were with friends.

  3. One always wants to share 9/11 stories. Last night in fact, I was sitting at a sushi counter for dinner, and upon hearing some guests speaking in Japanese, it hit me that eleven years ago, I was in Tokyo on a business trip. I had just finished dinner and was walking back to my hotel room talking to my husband on my cell phone. He was working at Dulles Airport at the time and told me that something just happened at the World Trade Center. I told him I’d call him back from my hotel room.

    Well, of course when I arrived at the hotel and turned on the news, I watched with horror what was happening and couldn’t make a call to anywhere in the U.S. for the next several days. I called room service to order oatmeal. They replied that it’s only for breakfast…but eventually relented. So, there I sat, alone, watching the events unfold–and somehow the hotel only featured Fox so I had to endure Sean Hannity’s narrative with people calling in saying “Nuke ‘Em.”

    The next morning, people looked at me somberly in the elevator. I had breakfast alone as typical, and walked to the office where everyone formed a receiving line to offer their condolences. It was very moving. A day or so later, I walked to the American Embassy and stood on a line that stretched around the block with mostly young people holding flowers and waiting to sign the two guest books under a large canopy. It was drizzling and surreal. My trip home was delayed for several days, so I walked around Tokyo exploring museums half-heartedly and wondering about the world.

    My reseller complained, asking me why his customers in the U.S. couldn’t make phone calls to Japan. Well, few people could make calls until the capacity opened up a bit after the first couple of days and finally 5 days later, I returned home.

    Sadly, American foreign policy has not moderated much since then. We’ve become more of a bully than ever and remain tethered to lopsided interests in the region, despite the best advice of our national security teams. Our use of drones won’t be endearing us to groups which sadly already practice hate as a matter of course. We have to do more than hope for a brighter collective future.

  4. It just happened that President Bush was here in my town speaking to a class of elementary school kids when the Twin Towers were attacked. Sadly, two of the hijackers trained for their pilot licenses in a nearby town as well.

    I lost no loved ones that day, but know of a few people who did. I still find watching the footage of that day quite disturbing and have never seen any of the movies about the attack. It’s too painful, even after all these years.

  5. I’m sure each of us remember exactly where we were when this tragedy occurred. I was working as an instrumentation technician when the radio next door in the electric shop started pumping out the events as they unfolded. It didn’t take long before everyone was huddled around that radio to hear more. It seemed like one of those Hollywood hoaxes that just couldn’t be really happening. There were so many lives changed forever that day. Tragic stories of heroes and victims were gut-wrenching to watch.

  6. Val

    9/11 touched everyone in the UK that I know of, myself included. I lived in London at the time (I’m in rural Wales now) and it was so shocking we were glued to the media for a long time, more than just hours or days. I think we realised that nothing would be the same again after that.

  7. Like everyone I was glued to the TV all day here in New Zealand, and my ten year old grandson said to me, ‘ I do hope Bush doesn’t want to get into revenge – that will make it much worse”…
    A year later I went to hear Mozart’s rolling Requiem. Since our day begins before anywhere else in the world, the music started in a church here, and was played all around the world for 24 hours. It was utterly moving. At the end, we each took a candle and lit it and placed it with all the others, remembering each person who had died.
    There was one upside to it. For the first time in the world, we all discovered that we really were connected, that we all really were a village, and it connected us all at very deep levels….

    • As an American, I thank you for that ceremony of remembrance. I went to a similar one in a church in England a few days after the tragedy.

      And I agree we’re all connected — more than ever before with our smartphones and tablet computers. Especially in the blogosphere!

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