It's still kind of hard to believe it really happened. I remember how surreal everything felt while I was watching the tragic events unfold live on TV. To echo a friend, it felt more like watching the trailer for a new Spielberg movie than reality. But true it was. And so much changed forever.
This is a whole generation's "where you when...?". When Armstrong walked on the moon. When Kennedy was shot. Hiroshima. Pearl Harbour. (my mom has clear memories of those first two, even here in Spain).
I was at home, in my studio, in Liège (Belgium). Working hard on my Master's thesis presentation which was to take place 3 days later. I should have been studying for my last ever University exam (a course on Stable Istotopes) but I was making the most of a friend being available to help me learn how to do an oral presentation (choose the figures and data to include, design overheads, practice speech). Around 3pm her boyfriend called her cellphone and asked her where she was. "At a friend's house" "Is there a TV?" "Yes." "Turn it on" "Why?" "Someone crashed a plane into one of the World Trade Centre Twin Towers, it's all over the news!" My reaction: "You've got to be kidding?! How on earth did that happen??? You sure it's not a prank? We'll turn the TV on but I've only got one channel and I doubt they'll be showing anything. This is Belgium, why would they show some plane accident in the US?". TV turns on. Oh. My. God. Just as the second plane hit. And the images just kept coming, and coming, and repeating. Again and again and again.
And I spent the rest of the afternoon glued to the tube. Mesmerised. In Shock. With several calls to my parents in Spain to see if they had any news of the family in the US, specially my sister who was supposed to fly out of JFK the night before (and with her luck she could have missed her connection and been put on a flight on the 11th). Fortunately my sister had landed in Spain that morning, and the family in the US were calling my parents for news because apparently what little info available Stateside was very confusing and they didn't really know what was going on.
I showed up for my exam the next morning with my mind still reeling, plus worried 'cause I hadn't studied at all. The teacher walked in, sat down at his desk with about three or four newspapers and said "open book exam". Collective sigh of relief. He knew. And he didn't lift his head out of those papers for the 2h that followed. I aced the exam, did great on my thesis presentation 2 days later and then freaked everyone in the lab out when I told them I was flying home that Saturday. "Are you crazy?!" "I'm not going to let this stop me from flying." Still haven't. Although every time I go through the damn heightened security checks (pull my laptop out from the bottom of my bag? again?!), or can't take a bottle of water through, I get angry all over again at those people who were crazy enough to fly into the buildings. Who in one stroke killed thousands of people and have left even more with serious health problems because of that day: the miraculous survivors and the valiant saviours.
I guess some would say the people on those planes were brave enough to sacrifice their lives for something they believe in. In a way that's true, it demands an incredible amount of faith to do that. Or significant brainwashing. Someone was calling the shots. Someone sent them to their "glorious" deaths. Someone had planned it all down to the last detail. Except for not being able to foresee a brave group of passengers who stood up to the hijackers. Except for not being able to foresee how the rest of the world would rally around an injured nation, basically saying "we've got your backs". That someone is gone now. For good. But he left behind him a world that is a lot more scared than 10 years and one day ago. Terror is still alive. And he left people in charge of fanning the flames. Damn him. Damn them.
Never again we say. If only we could guarantee it. In a world of billions of people, it just takes one pissed-off charismatic leader to get thousands of (frequently downtrodden) others to do his dirty work. I believe somehow humanity will evolve past this senseless violence, when dialogue will be the weapon of choice (and not insult-throwing like so many politicians do these days). Dialogue. Reason.
Never again. Inch'allah. Si Dios lo quiere. Si Dieu le veux. Amen.
Where were you when...?