September 11, 2001. A date forever etched on most Westerners’ minds, and certainly that of most Americans. Everyone speaks of where they were on that fateful day. We don’t even need to think about it, the memories flash instantly back to us.
I remember it clearly. I was with my two young children over at a friend’s house when the phone call came. It was an ordinary day, we had been chatting over cups of tea as the little ones delved into toy boxes. My friend switched on the TV and we gawped in disbelief at what we saw unfolding on the screen. As our kids squealed and played in the background, oblivious to the immensity of the moment, we watched the scenes of devastation. The Twin Towers, those iconic buildings that grew to represent New York City, were unable to withstand the attacks.
On September 11, we don’t just remember the where. We also remember how we felt. The shock, the helplessness, the incomprehension, the startling realisation after the second plane flew into Tower Two that this was not an accident. The sinking feelings as news cameras on the ground relayed the fear of those in the vicinity of lower Manhattan. The widened eyes of incredulity as word spread that office workers were jumping out of windows to escape the flames.
My husband, Tim, and I had lived in New York City for several months before moving out to a suburb in New Jersey. Tim used to commute to work in the financial district, arriving by train at the World Trade Center. We had walked those streets and loved the picturesque skyline. I even had a visitor’s pass which allowed me to take friends to the top floor of Tower One, to the unique ‘Windows on the World’ café with spectacular views across the city. I’d taken several friends, relatives and even my first son in a baby carrier up there. My son was born in America – I held a distinct affinity for the World Trade Center and the American people. I was gripped by the images on the TV and felt gutted.
We had been back in the UK less than a year before the towers fell. Tim and I recognised that we could have been caught up in the turmoil of that fateful day and the aftermath of the following months. Over the next few days after September 11, I could think of little else. Above all, I just found it hard to accept that it had actually happened; it seemed surreal.
The more I thought about it, the more I felt burdened to express myself creatively. I picked up my guitar and penned a song. The first lines of the verse rang out to a haunting melody:
The day began as usual
People rushing off to work
None would be expecting
The things that were to come
The chorus continued:
You don’t know what a day can bring
You don’t know what tomorrow holds
September 11 is a yearly reminder that I should take nothing and no-one for granted. That I don’t know what’s ahead around the corner and that I should value every moment with my family. No one called their bank or their boss on September 11; all that mattered was family and friends. And as each year rolls by (has it really been 12 years?) we see how fleeting this life is.