Sunday, 11 September 2011

Ten years ago

Many people are writing about the hideous events of ten years ago today.

I feel slightly voyeuristic in writing this. After all, no-one I knew died during the attacks, and I don't even know anyone who was in New York at the time. It has had no immediate effect on me, my friends or my family. How can any words of mine even begin to acknowledge the pain people must feel? I can only hope that this posting is suitably elegiac.

Yet I feel I must write down my memories before they fade further. I was at work at Pace in Cambridge ten years ago, working downstairs in my cubicle. At the time I was frequently on Mono, a text-based bulletin board, and a message came through to everyone on the system: "A plane has crashed in New York."

Soon I was flicking through the news channels to see pictures of smoke pouring out of a skyscraper. Elsewhere in the building we had a demo area (which I dubbed a 'Wow!" room) that had a series of TVs in it. Several of us went into the room to watch the devastation, and we were watching as the second plane went in.

More people joined us, our attention focussing on the TVs. We watched as the broadcasters, as dumbstruck as us, wondered if it could still be an accident, as if they could not admit that anyone could deliberately do such a hideous act. We watched as the first tower fell, a cloud of dust rising up and expanding outwards. I refused to admit it and muttered some asinine comment like :"It must still be there!" even as the dust cloud lowered to reveal just one smoking tower.

Then the second tower went; I was no longer dumbstruck and just swore loudly and verbosely. Then the news came through about the Pentagon, and Shanksville, and reports of other hijacked airliners that thankfully proved to be false. So many images from that day stick in my memory, from the impact of the second plane to the ghost-like wraiths covered in dust from the collapsed buildings. One in particular sticks in my mind: a suited man sitting on a kerb, his briefcase open and his head in his hands. The world around him was concrete grey.

The next day proved hard for me. All the staff were called out at eleven the next morning for three minutes' silence. For some reason the management asked me to announce and time the silence. I waited for the last stragglers to come through the door, said a few words and timed the silence. Not a single head was raised and I concentrated on my watch as the seconds passed, preferring that to thinking of the horrid events.

Then it was over. My voice broke as I said, "That's it. Thankyou everyone." and people started shuffling back indoors. I felt honoured to have been asked to time the silence, but it harrowed me.

To everyone who died in the attacks; we will remember you. To those who lost someone they loved: I hope that the years have helped blunt some of the pain that you feel. To the brave men who went into the buildings and who lost their lives trying to help others: God bless you.

And to the people who did the act, to those who supported them, and to the conspiracy theorists who slander the dead: we will win. Not by bullets, not by force, but by thought. We are right, you are wrong. You believe in fear and hate; we believe in love and understanding.

You are weak. We are strong.

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