Sunday, 11 September 2011

Ten years

Ten years ago today. In some ways it seems like a lifetime ago and in others it seems like yesterday.

At work all week we've had conversations about what happened that horrible day, why it happened, what happened afterwards... but none of us were actually there, so it's all based on conjecture and whatever we've read or heard or seen on the thousands of documentaries about the events. But everyone has their own story about where they were and what they were doing when they first heard.

It's one of those breaking news stories of such gravity that you actually remember those details. For older generations the question was always what you were doing when you heard that JFK had been shot, but the only other story of such huge importance in my lifetime was when Princess Diana died. Two events in the course of my life isn't even one a decade, which I guess proves how significantly grave and rare such occasions are.

When the planes crashed into the World Trade Center towers, I was at school. It was a Tuesday afternoon and I had a music lesson after school on Tuesdays. I remember someone came and told us about it and we followed them back to the little media room we had in the school library to watch it on television. The rest of the school had gone home but there were maybe around ten to fifteen of us stood in that little room, staring at the screen in horror and not really understanding what was going on.

I was seventeen at the time. I was vaguely aware of current affairs but, given the rather delicate state of my own country's political system at the time, not really interested in politics - I reckoned it was just a lot of people arguing about nothing. I think 11 September 2001 was significant enough in my life to change that.

I didn't personally know anyone who died in the attacks (thank God) but it struck me hard that literally thousands of innocent people had just been killed in cold blood. Some people out there felt so strongly about something that they were willing to kill not only themselves but thousands of strangers, just going about their lives. I wanted to know what was so important to them to warrant such action. I guess I understand it better now than I did back then but I will never fully understand it.

In the years since the attacks, I've driven the Yorkshireman mad watching hundreds of documentaries and movies about what happened. I can't really articulately explain why it interests me quite so much but it's such a sad and awful story, and thanks to the media age we can not only hear about it, but see it.

Every time the TV shows that first plane flying into the tower and turning into a fireball, my stomach drops. I can't help but picture how terrified those people on-board the plane must have felt, watching the buildings below get closer and closer and know that there's no where to land - the plane is going to crash at any second. How terrified the people were, trapped above the floors where the plane crashed. The footage shows them waving clothing to try and get attention from the rescuers when, in hindsight, we know it will never come - they too will die. You see people, trapped in a burning, smoke-filled building, driven to the choice of burning alive or jumping out, and horrifyingly choosing the latter.

I am so very grateful that it wasn't me or anyone I know. But the one thing these documentaries do prove is that there are so many people who were directly affected. I can't help but feeling so, so sorry for them. Especially today, ten years on. I can't imagine that time really does much to heal in a situation like this. I would feel angry forever.

When we were in New York last November, we visited St Paul's Chapel, just across from the site. Watching the footage of the buildings collapsing, it's amazing the Chapel wasn't obliterated, but instead it stood proud and served its community in the day after, when people were afraid and confused and mourning. Today it still houses emotional displays of all sorts of memorabilia relating to the events and I would highly recommend spending some time there if you happen to be in New York.

But whilst it's important to remember what happened and to be sad about it, it's also important to move on. You can say what you like about the human race but we're resilient when the going gets tough. That's why I'm really glad about the 9/11 Memorial. It's a fitting tribute to those who sadly lost their lives but also a sign that New York will not be intimidated and that it will dust off its hands and get on with things. Not that it's just about New York of course - it's important to remember those who were lost in Washington DC and the brave passengers on Flight 93 too.

Today Belfast held a memorial service in the grounds of the City Hall. A gospel choir sang comforting songs like Bridge Over Troubled Water and Something Inside So Strong. The Fire Chief from New York's Fire Department sent us a message thanking Belfast for its support fundraising in the days after the attacks. There was a minute's silence to mark the time the first plane flew into the first tower. The Yorkshireman and I were there. It felt like a nice way to mark the occasion and I'm glad I went. It was nice to see people gathered together purely in the name of support and comfort for a change. I hope those who were affected by those awful events ten years ago do take comfort from all those who send their sympathy. We are so, so sorry for your loss.


  1. Glad to know that you two were at the commemoration ceremony at Belfast City Hall yesterday.

    I have not watched many 9/11 documentaries, but one I like very much is The Hamburg Cell (aired BBC 2004), a docudrama about Ziad Jarrah:

    Perhaps the most dramatic scene is at the end, when is wife is at hospital watching the events unfold:

  2. It looks like an interesting film and from a different perspective than most accounts of the events, thanks for sharing. If I see it on TV I'll be sure to watch.