Anniversaries like this are difficult things to write about. I personally don’t look forward to October much. Although my own wedding anniversary is in it, which lifts the gloom, so is the anniversary of my father’s death, twelve years ago. He said to my mum after my grandparents died that life after the death of a loved one is a series of firsts: the first time you laugh, the first time you go back to somewhere you both loved, the first time you do anything you were used to doing together.
As the anniversary of 9/11 is upon us, my own thoughts turn to more personal brushes with acts of terrorism. Having just read fellow author Damon Suede’s ‘walk-through’ of living in Manhattan at the time, a moving and educating account on reviewer SJD Peterson’s blog (link below) I found out things I never knew had happened. For instance, how many times Manhattan residents were evacuated over the next days and how others survived by the skin of their teeth. As Damon says, “One of my dearest amigos had been temping on the 64th floor that day and only survived because she walked barefoot and blind through the rubble… six miles home into Brooklyn. Another colleague had left a meeting in World Trade 2 for a cigarette and almost got decapitated by falling masonry.”
Our own country would follow in 2007 with the London bombing. 7/7 as it came to be known threw terrorism in our faces once more. My mum had a friend whose daughter survived because she had simply decided not to ride that bus that morning but to walk. It passed her as she made her way to work. Moments later, chaos reigned. What decides whether you live or die? Chance? What made her decide to walk that morning? Fate? Who knows?
Perhaps the thing that stands out most in my own memory is the Manchester bombing of 1992. My family and I had gone on holiday that morning. I recall it was a Saturday. We got to the farmhouse in Northumberland where we were staying and saw it on the news. I remember my mum asking if I should call my long-time friend who lived there and I said I knew she was safe (which she was) because I had spoken to her on the phone only that morning. The blasts happened a scant half hour after I had talked to her and I knew it would take her at least 45 minutes to get to town. Little did I know then though that two of our other friends had a lucky escape that morning. They both worked at an office block near the center of the blast and one had been standing at one of the windows when the bomb went off. The window bowed in but did not shatter, being made of blast-proof glass. If she’d been on the floor higher she wouldn’t have been so lucky. Apparently the firm had only fitted blast proof glass to that floor and no higher because it was deemed unnecessary.
For the rest of us watching through the window of television, we are often removed from the main event by dint of being miles away. It doesn’t touch us because it’s happening to someone else. However, the thing that strikes me most about 9/11 has always been the final communications from those people who died. The advent of mobile phones allowed a few to contact their nearest and dearest to tell them they loved them or to tell them, sometimes mistakenly and tragically, that they were safe. That is the thing that has always moved me to tears. What would I do if I got such a phone call? No damned idea. I hope it never happens to me.
Us Brits have lived with terrorist acts for decades (the IRA were often too close for comfort) so I guess we were inured to it to some degree. We were familiar with bomb warnings and abandoned packages and the evacuation protocol should we receive a bomb threat while at work. I dare say that a goodly few of us were shocked at the scale of 9/11 though and no doubt some had probably thought we were free of such acts since the IRA had reached ceasefire agreements. If such thoughts occurred to us, how wrong they were.
One decade later, my thoughts are with everyone touched by such acts. I hope you have found peace. We can but pray for a safer and more enlightened world. I can but hope that the next ten years is more peaceful and tolerant.
May your God go with you all.
Lest we forget.
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