September 11, 2006

Where Were You?

When John F. Kennedy was killed, I was in the kitchen. Well, technically, I was the business end of my mother's 7-months-along pregnancy, but I know she found out in the kitchen while she gave my sister her lunch.

Like most big moments in modern history, the Americans are the ones who do it biggest and loudest, and Canadians are like the little brothers who stand around thinking 'now you're gonna get it'. We're part of it, but we don't bear much of the brunt of it.

I watched the space shuttle Challenger blow up on live TV. I remember wondering if that was supposed to happen, the way the parts blew apart at odd angles, like the first time you see a broken leg sticking out the wrong way from under a football player.

When the World Trade Centre was struck five years ago, I'd chucked the boys out the door to school, and had set about the business of my job search. When my sister called me, there was something wrong with her voice as she told me to put on the TV. She was at work downtown Toronto, in a skyscraper, and they had no information.

As the images of that morning filled my screen, I relayed to her what I was seeing. She in turn relayed to her co-workers what was happening. They knew people in those towers, had crossed paths dozens of times with people in their industry based from that epicentre of hell.

Roz and I have always had an agreement that I, the news junkie, would let her, the usually blissfully-uninformed, know if the world ended. That morning the only thing I cared about was Workopolis and my resume. Until she called.

After an hour of stunned disbelief, she whispered to me "go get the boys, just go get them home." I did as she said, walking down to their school with tears streaming down my face. I expected to see a lot of parents ferrying their little ones out. But no, it seemed like business as usual. The secretary told me they were encouraging everyone to leave the kids were they were. I signed my sons out and took them home.

I spent all that day and most of the night trying to contact my friends in New York City. A young couple with two tiny boys, they both worked in the media and I knew they would be within dust distance of this nightmare. I emailed, I phoned, I prayed. When Tonia finally called at 10 that night, I realized the relief in my voice would never be matched by the haunting quality of hers. I wanted them home, though I knew no place was ever really going to be safe again.

I already knew who Osama bin Laden was (remember: news junkie). But like most North Americans, I figured war was somewhere else. When George Bush Sr. had started bombing Baghdad, I stayed up all night watching the light show of terror, and understood for the first time a little of what my mother must have lived through in wartime England. I also understood why she was reluctant to talk about it.

I could never again watch the Santa Claus parade here in town without having a JFK flashback when the mayor went by in his convertible, waving. We make associations to give things perspective.

For September 11, 2001, there was no perspective. I brought my children home because I believed only I could protect them. I wanted my sister out of her office tower in the country's biggest city, because she wasn't safe anymore.

We are a complacent lot. Horrible, tragic things occur all over this planet everyday, both natural and manmade. We flip the page after scanning the photo for white faces, and if we don't have to make a call to ascertain a loved one's safety, we flush it from our conscience.

I guess that's why they're bringing it to us.


Blogger Rainypete said...

It all came down to the nature of who you were. If you were prone to reaction then you had to do something and if you are prone to panic then you panic. The enormity of it all just threw people for a loop. War was soemthing we saw in movies and television and not on our own continent.

September 11, 2006 9:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Five years ago, a co-worker entered my office and asked "did you hear that a plane hit the World Trade Centre?" I sat there with a stupid smile on my face waiting for the punchline! What kind of a world was I living in that I thought there could possibly be a punchline to her question/comment? It was then that I really looked at her facial expression and quietly got up and followed her into the boardroom where the television was showing the live news coverage.

What happened next, has changed my life forever (for the better, I hope. If such an horrific event can possibly do anything for the better). I watched as the second plane flew into the second tower. I then watched as objects were being thrown out of the tower windows. (I remember wondering what these people thought was so important that they were willing to throw them out of the windows in order to collect later at ground level -- and could they really believe their property would survive that fall?

When the penny finally dropped and I realized that the objects being thrown were actually people jumping, in order to try to save themselves, my life was changed forever. (I have just discovered that I can't type these words without crying either - I thought it only happened when I spoke them.)

I could not get out of the boardroom fast enough. I returned to my office and was physically ill into my waste basket. I then picked up the phone and called my daughter (in her second year at an out of town university)to make sure she and her dear friend and roommate (who is a Muslim) were okay. I urgently needed to make sure that they understood that there would be a huge backlash from this horrendous event and that they would need to look out for one another.

I got it - we human beings need to look out for one another - good for me, eh?

I no longer see life as one huge punchline - good for me, eh?

I have a zero tolerance level for racial jokes/remarks/slurs - I actually voice my opinion loud and clear instead of smiling politely and changing the subject....good for me, eh?

In the truest sense, I have never been to war, but rest assured I am willing to do verbal battle for the rest of my life - good for us, eh?

September 11, 2006 2:07 PM  
Blogger Lorraine said...

Beautifully, beautifully written. Thank you for this.

September 11, 2006 2:35 PM  

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