Saturday, September 11, 2010

Where were you when ...

I've been watching some of the TV programmes marking the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, including what seemed to me a well-made film about the passengers who foiled the fourth attack by re-taking their hijacked plane. But inside my head I was re-running the film of my own experience of that day nine years ago.

I was just outside my classroom door after the lunch break when my mobile phone rang. While my class filed in and settled themselves, I took the call. It was Number One son, in the Guardian offices in London. He sounded incredulous, interested, sharing a story with me. There had been a freak accident - a small plane had flown into the World Trade Centre. Ignoramus that I was, I had to ask where exactly this was, had to be told that it consisted of two massive towers. Strange now, to think that I didn't know. As we spoke, he suddenly broke off. He was watching the live monitors in the newsroom, and there was another plane - surely not - yes, it too had flown into the second tower. I felt as if I was witnessing it myself, as I became aware that the second year pupils in front of me had stopped chatting, that the room had become silent, that they were all staring at me. I think my mouth was open in horror, and I don't think I was making much sense.

I can recall now how frustratingly hard it was to find out what exactly was happening; I took my class to the library for their scheduled book-changing/research period and told them to search, to see if they could find anything online about this unfolding horror. Meanwhile, I told the technician whose lair was close to my room to put on his television - one of the few in the school connected to an outside aerial. The pupils were finding out plenty about the WTC, but so far there was no real news - and they were as frustrated as I was.

By the time I reached the last period of the afternoon - a non-contact one for me - the technician's room was full of off-duty staff, all glued to the screen, all silent except for the odd gasp or oath. We saw the first tower fall, and then the second - in the wrong order, it seemed. Fear began to grow - would there be a war? A big one, involving everyone? Anything seemed possible.

I'm of an age to remember what I was doing when I heard Kennedy had been shot; this year is the first I have realised that that strangely live participation across half a world, a newsroom screen and a mobile phone is becoming similarly vivid. And these 13 year old kids who were in my room at the time it happened felt that they too had a tiny share in "being there" - it was one of the things several recalled when we've met since.

I would like not to be part of any more horror, no matter how distantly. Please?


  1. I was a bit out on a limb too - over at Colonsay on one of my visits as Minister there. We had no TV or internet in the Manse there so it was a case of finding out from neighbours, then hunting out any American visitors to see if they needed any help. As to Kennedy, I too have vivid memories - there seem to have been so many hard things over our lifetimes. Let's pray things calm down a bit.

  2. I was listening to the radio when it was announced the first plane hit the twin towers. Then, suddenly there was an announcement that another plane hit the second tower. Someone said the US might be under attack...This sent a chill down my spine and I felt nearly immobilized, wondering....In the days that followed came all the tales of horror. One of my soapmaking friends was working in an office when she saw a man "fly" past the window, his tie flapping behind him. She said it was bizarre, and yet, he looked rather peaceful in the midst of it. So many terrible stories...Then all the threats made that blood would be running in the streets of the cities in the US. It is all so sad and yet, the Bible has warned of atrocities. Why would we remain exempt? Violence is so unsettling. Acts of terrorism seem to happen so sporadically. The cowards behind them will indeed be judged. I am merely grateful that there is indeed One Judge whose decisions are just and righteous. He alone is worthy to judge and thankfully, vengeance is also in His domain. Praise God!