11 Sep 2011

Where were you when...

10 years.

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...?


  1. Did anyone else just see the documentary on the History channel? 102 Minutes That Changed America.

    It was shown worldwide, starting at exactly the time the first plane crashed. So surreal. Like living through it all again, but with a better appreciation of everything that was going on since it's mostly footage from random people on the streets or in neighbouring buildings. I don't think everyone will be able to watch it... it was very jarring and I don't have a direct connexion to the event. For someone who does...

    Showcased some of the amazing work by the NYC firemen.

    Apparently they'll be showing it again at 9pm ET in the US. Once was enough for me.

  2. It's probably foolhardy to pump our fists and say "never again" when we have so little control--but I hope we regain control where we can, by not allowing the oligarchs to use such an event to visit war on other innocents.

  3. Very true Murr... what ever happened to the power of the people? :s

  4. We sat and watched all the re-plays on tv the other day and my daughter, who was in 6th grade when it happened, said she was amazed at how much of it she remembered. We sat on my bed that horrible morning, glued to the TV, practically in tears. The kids were late for school that morning because we couldn't stop watching the TV to leave. I've watched many interviews over the past 10 years, with people who were somehow involved in this horror. The worst one was a woman who was in the building and has 3rd degree burns over her entire body. Its shocking and horrid that she has to endure this for the rest of her life. It breaks my heart to think of her.

  5. Kim, I'm not surprised she remembers it so well. I have distinct memories of the Challenger accident which I saw in school, and I was only in the 3rd or 4th grade... Some things just stay with you, no matter your age.


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