Sunday, September 11, 2011

My 9/11

I posted this in 2011, looking back on what happened in 2001.

Ten years is a long time. Ten years ago I did not have children. My husband and I were living in an apartment in Richmond, BC, not too far from Vancouver International Airport. We were on the flight path and would see planes every day, though we were not so close that the sound really bothered us. I worked in a book- and gift-shop at the airport.

I remember getting up for work in the morning that day, turning on the TV, and seeing the footage of the towers falling. It had already happened by then, and all the TV-stations were showing the images again and again and again. Like many others, my initial reaction was that I wasn't sure at first if what I was seeing was real. It's one of the few times in my life that I've felt weak in the knees.

Between the towers of the World Trade Center as a cloud passes between them. (Nov. 1998.)

By the time I took the bus to work, I knew that flights were cancelled all over the world. I knew that some planes were being escorted to airports by fighter jets. I sat on the bus, still stunned, wondering what all this meant: for people in NYC, for me, for the world, for my job at the airport, for everything.

There was a German girl with me on the airport bus. She sat there with her luggage: two suitcases and a carry on. She had seen the news too, but was convinced that at least Lufthansa would still be flying. I told her I didn't think they would be taking off, but her faith in that flight leaving on time was unshakable. I stopped trying to convince her otherwise.

The day at the airport was surreal. Inside security there was no one around, except scattered staff like myself. Outside, the tarmac filled up gradually with planes. I saw planes with logos on their tails I'd never seen before. Eventually, the tarmac was crowded with planes, packed in like cars in a parking garage.

The world changed immediately. There was no commercial air travel anywhere in the world. There were stranded passengers everywhere. For many days there were no planes flying above our apartment in Richmond  It was oddly quiet, both at the airport and in our apartment.


On TV that same footage of the twin towers burning, then falling, played over and over and over again until I couldn't stand it anymore. Friends of mine who lived in NYC checked in on the Internet and told stories of traffic mayhem, smoke and dust, fear and death.

Eventually, the stories of the hijackings that lead to the attacks came out, and I wondered how anyone would ever be able to travel on a plane again. Could I ever sit on a plane and trust that I would be OK? What kind of security measures would be put in place to deal with the danger and the fear? What was going to happen to the world now?

10 years later I know some of the answers. I know that airplanes eventually started flying again, even though air travel and airport security have been forever changed.  I know that some of my friends who were closer to the events had their lives profoundly changed by the events on that day. I still don't really know what is going to happen to the world, but then I guess no one ever really knows the answer to that question.

Today, I don't think about 9/11 every time I get on a plane, though I did for a while just afterwards. I can sit on an airplane and feel safe. Is it a false sense of security? Maybe. Has 9/11 faded from my memory? Not really. I think the memory of what happened has become part of me, and has shaped the world in such a profound way that it's something more than a memory.

10 years later I have two children who have not known a world before the events of 9/11. I live in a house that is much farther away from Vancouver International Airport, but we're still on the flight path and I still see the planes fly overhead during the day. My oldest child, born in 2003, loves to watch those planes. When he sees them, he'll often ask me (though he already knows the answer): "Mommy, where is that big plane going?" And I'll answer "To the airport, of course. All planes have to go to the airport to land!"

To all of my friends who were affected so much more personally than I was by 9/11: you are in my thoughts. I wish I could hug each and every one of you. Instead, I might just hug my kids as we see another airplane fly by on its way to Vancouver Airport.

The Vancouver Sun has a story and images from YVR's 9/11.

Image of the WTC by Flickr user Beija, via Wikimedia Commons.

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