Tuesday, September 11, 2007

11 September

Today is the day Americans call 9/11. Because we write our dates differently in the UK, for us the date today is 11/9 - yet we have still adopted 9/11 to refer to the significance of this date in history.

Six years ago today, I was invigilating an exam session at the college where I was working. Some of the students were taking an exam in the use of the Internet and every single on of them suddenly lost access to the www. I was puzzled by the co-incidence, but, after trying unsuccessfully to rectify the problem, I decided our ISP's server must be down and sent them off to reschedule their exam.

Out of the corner of my eye, I registered that there seemed to be a general hubbub outside of the exam area, and assumed that one of our students had brought in pictures of a grandchild or shared news of a bereavement.

When I emerged at the end of my 2 hour session, the centre administrator told me that two planes had flown into the twin towers in New York. "Yeah right," I sneered, "it's a hoax." Undoubtedly, some tragedy could have resulted in a plane flying into one of the towers but both? It was beyond the realms of possibility.

As I got into my car to drive home, the news report confirmed the story. I was shocked but still doubtful. Someone, somewhere had gotten their wires crossed.

I arrived home and turned on the telly. Every single channel was showing footage of the scene of devastation, interspersed with such footage as existed of the actual incidents. Unbelievable. Like something out of a Bruce Willis movie. The shock, the horror, the fear, the worry. In real time, it unfolded before my very eyes and created an empty space where my innards were supposed to be.

Shortly afterwards, waiting for my children outside the school, I learnt that a friend had not heard from her sister-in-law who worked in one of the buildings. Two days later I discovered one of my other acquaintances had had a relative in one of the towers. Both were found to be unharmed, but the world suddenly felt claustrophobically small. Here I was, a South African nobody living in a small English village no-one ever heard of and I personally knew two families that were directly impacted by the incident.

Knowing full well that Portland, Oregon is the full width of the USA and several time zones away, I still felt compelled to phone my sister-in-law straight after the incident to make sure that she and everyone she knew were accounted for. They were.

Even more illogically, I then had to phone my mother in South Africa, mark you, to make sure that she was safe.

I guess I was stocktaking. Today, I'm doing it again. Remembering where I was when I heard the news and how that far away event touched even my insignificant life.

If you're doing the same, this is my virtual eye contact with you. If you're grieving all over again, please accept my ineffectual condolences.

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