Ten years ago today something happened that changed the world as we know it. We all know what that was.
Where were you?
I was at 14 and I was at school in North West London. Not a word was said while we were at school, something I still find odd and wonder if I’m actually remembering that correctly.
At the end of the day I waved goodbye to my friends as I left the school and crossed the road to where my Grandad always parked down a side street opposite. He was quiet, but then he always was. As he pulled away from the kerb, he said:
“Two planes have hit the twin towers.”
“The twin towers. In New York.”
“By accident you mean,” I said. Because it honestly didn’t occur to me that it could be anything else, even though he had said two planes.
He didn’t answer, just stared straight ahead and shook his head slightly. I remember opening my mouth, but I said nothing. I wasn’t even sure that I was thinking of the right place, at that point they weren’t part of my mental landscape.
We had drawn level with the school, moving slowly against the rest of the traffic. The road was dense with cars parked, cars inching slowly along, the spaces between filled with students, arms linked, jaws working against gum, earphones plugged into just one ear. I remember staring out of the car window, the noise of teachers shouting at the girls dodging between cars, the cries of adolescent boys after those girls in the short skirts with their enviable confidence. The world had changed and no one seemed to have any clue.
We drove home in uncharacteristic silence. We sat on the sofa at home and watched the replays – as though replaying it would make sense of it. We reached blindly for the phone to call our American relatives – two of whom lived in downtown New York at the time. The room was filled with fragile puffs of air because every time we tried to say something none of us could find words big enough. It was the first time I realised that actually, sometimes words are not enough – sometimes words provide no answers, no comfort. It was a realisation that made me feel adrift and lonely. The first certainty of my life was cut.
The next day at school was strangely tense. By that point people were talking about Al Qaeda, throwing around the term “Islamic extremism.” My school was a melting pot of religions and I will never forget that sudden “us and them” that sprung up, despite the assembly that warned against it.
It was fantastically naive of me, but I was so surprised by that – we had been friends, we shared Bunsen burners during our Chemistry classes and swapped pens and made up dances in the playground.
11th September 2001 left a mark on all of us, to greater or lesser extents. The images of each collision, the towers crumbling, the heaving cloud of dust and debris that moved like a monster through New York that day, still chills me, makes the hairs on my arms stand up.
I hope it is not still naive of me to say that I hope that more love was born that day than hate. I hope it taught us to cherish those we love, to make the most of every day. If we have learnt that people can do horrific things that have the power to freeze the entire world in one moment of shock, then I hope we have also learnt that people have untold capacities for bravery, love and compassion.
My thoughts today are with the families of those who were lost that day, not just in the Towers, but at the Pentagon and on flight 93.