Sunday, September 11, 2011

In an instant, it all changed

Tuesday, September 11, 2001 was a beautiful day in London, much like the beautiful day we're having today in Vancouver. When I got up that morning, I never, ever would have thought the day would end with such sadness.

I was off work that day and had gone into London with a friend who was getting ready to leave London, go on a trip through Europe and then head home to Mexico. I don't remember much of the morning, but sometime after lunch, around 1:30 or 2:00, we were in a tacky gift shop on the Strand. And over the chatter of the tourists in the shop, I heard something about a plane hitting the Empire State building.

And that was it. I didn't think much of it, in my mind it was a small, personal aircraft that must have made some kind of navigational error. The person reading the news was pretty calm and matter of fact and moved on to the next news story. Sad, but what do you do, right?

Not long after that we decided it was time to move on to our next destination - I'm not sure what it was, we never made it there. When we stepped out onto the street, something was wrong. It was quiet. Very quiet. It's never quiet like that on the Strand. And there was a lady on her cell phone in the middle of the street, sobbing. And a man next to her, who obviously knew her, but not well, awkwardly patting her on the shoulder.

As we walked through the streets, we could feel the mood thickening and the city getting quieter, but we didn't know why. I had forgotten the news report and didn't make that connection until later.

We decided that we were just going to go home. We didn't like the way London felt and we had tickets to the theatre that night, so we thought we'd go home, drop our purchases off, get changed, have dinner and come back.

The underground was eerily quiet. Everyone was very subdued. Every once in a while we'd see someone who had obviously been crying.

When we got back to Pax Lodge, it was a little crazy. We were hosting a seminar and there were American participants who were trying to connect with their relatives. We still weren't sure what was going on. Everyone crowded around the tv, but the news hadn't become huge yet...most stations were showing regular programming. The internet was nothing like it is today and in the entire building there were two computers (maybe four?) that were connected to the internet...nothing would load because the demand around the world was exceeding most sites' bandwidth allowance.

Eventually the UK caught on and all five stations that we got switched to newscasts. And it was devastating. There was huge concern about where terrorists might strike next. There was talk of shutting down the underground. The City was evacuated. All of our international guests and staff just wanted to go home. Of course, we knew that wasn't going to be possible.

Edna and I weren't sure if we should go to the show that night. We were scared that we'd get there and then the underground would shut down and we would have to walk all the way home. We waffled for hours about going and finally our boss told us just to go. That's what we needed to do, keep living and not let the terrorists scare us into staying home, even if we were terrified. She even offered to drive into London to get us if the underground did get shut down.

We went to the theatre and Oxford Street was almost empty. There was two minutes of silence at the beginning of the show and the theatre pretty much stayed quiet throughout the show. The show was great, but the collective sadness of the audience was so heavy. I have no idea how the actors managed to put on such a great performance.

My tv, which pretty much lived in a cabinet, came out of storage and for the next few days there was almost always someone in my room, even when I wasn't there, watching the coverage. I don't think I've ever cried so many tears. I don't think I've ever been so homesick either. Not that being home would have made the reality of it any less, but being home would at least give me the comfort of knowing my family was okay. I figured the world was ending.

The world didn't end.

My parents flew, very safely, to London a few weeks later to visit me and do some travelling. I flew to Finland and flew back to London with two pairs of scissors in my carry-on luggage and no one stopped me. I figured an armed guard would be waiting to arrest me when the plane touched down at Heathrow. Edna didn't get to go on her trip through Europe. Her mom was so concerned she asked her to come home right away.

Things changed. People seem to be more cautious. I need a passport to cross the 49th parallel. I can't carry a water bottle with me on the plane anymore. Thousands of people lost loved ones on September 11. Thousands more have lost loved ones in the years since in London, Iraq and Afghanistan and in other terrorist attacks. But the world has carried on.

This morning when I got up, my thoughts immediately went back to that day ten years ago. I hugged J a little tighter than usual. Then I turned the tv on and saw that the three year old from Sparwood had been returned to his family. And I hugged her again. She looked at me like I was crazy. Then she saw the tears glistening in my eyes and she gently patted my shoulder and told me "It will be okay, Mommy. I love you."

And I think she's right.

It will be okay. The world didn't end. It changed.

1 comment: