Two years ago today, I was at home, working away on a project for the Social Planning Council of Kitchener-Waterloo, when I get a call from Erin. It’s just past ten o’clock, and she’s heard rumours of a plane flying into the World Trade Centre. The Net is way too slow, so she can’t get the news. I said I had cable-internet, so I’d check it out, but a quick check of the CBC and CNN turn up server errors. Something’s really dragging the net down.
So I leave the computer room, head into the living room and turn on CBC Newsworld. I see a lot of smoke in New York City, and then a “moments ago” shot of the second World Trade Centre tower crumbling like a house of cards.
Some time before I had written a apocalyptic story where, among other things, a terrorist attack caused a skyscraper to collapse. I don’t mind telling you that watching the second tower go down and thinking, “there are 50,000 people in there” made me sick to my stomach. I stared in shock at the images for some time, and then remembered that my sister-in-law Wendy lived in New York and worked in lower Manhattan. I tried calling (a foolish gesture — their house is in Long Island, and it was doubtful they were home) and only got a busy signal.
I then get a call from work telling me that Erin was very upset, to the point where her boss was going to drive her home (in our car). I turned off the television when she got into the apartment, but she demanded to see the pictures. We spent the entire afternoon and much of the evening watching the various channels and calling family and friends. We strained through every rumour, pouncing on every fact, even those that turned out not to be true (a fifth plane crashing in Colorado, a car bomb outside the State Department), wondering what it could all mean. Very early, the attention of CBC News turned towards Afghanistan.
Almost everybody, including the small local television stations, were showing live news. CP24 was taking calls from shocked listeners. The few stations that continued with their regular programming were like alien worlds to be avoided. Everybody’s attention was involved, and even though there was little news to be had beyond the obvious, we just had to talk. What else could we do?
We finally heard from Wendy. She was in midtown Manhattan when the planes struck. She reported that all of the bridges and tunnels out of Manhattan were closed, and there was no train service to Long Island, so she’d be staying with friends for the night. We later learned that some trains from the Long Island Railroad were allowed to run that afternoon, and she caught one of them. She described her journey home as “surreal”. There were people on the train who had been close to the devastation, and who were caked white with dust. The car was absolutely quiet, and she knew that some of the people she’d travelled to Manhattan with that morning, weren’t coming back.
There is, I think, a marked difference to the public reaction to this anniversary than there had been one year ago. Last year at this time, the television networks were full of retrospectives and memorials. It was almost as unavoidable as the news of the day itself. This year? CityTV is showing James Woods as Rudy Giuliani in the Rudy Giuliani Story, and there are various segments about memorial services in the news, but no special, widespread, prime-time commemoration.
I think it’s said that an old man who loses his wife of many years sometimes dies within two years, from the trauma, the broken heart and the loneliness. However, statistics show that if the old man survives the two years, he can come to terms with his grief and move on, and live a full and productive life for a while afterward. Perhaps the two year anniversary of the most shocking series terrorist attacks on North American soil is a point where everybody, Americans especially, are able to move the shock and the horror to that portion of their minds which houses the other shocks, horrors and tragedies of their past that they have dealt with. The American resolve against the War on Terror is not dampened in the slightest (nor should it be) but, maybe, just maybe, they’re starting to believe that the world didn’t change as strongly as people thought, back on September 11, 2001.
Lynn Johnston, the author and artist of the comic strip For Better or For Worse drew one comic about the terrorist attacks which, for me, moves the date when I choose to really remember the heroes and the victims of September 11. In Canada, November 11 is Remembrance Day, the day we remember the veterans and victims of war. True, it was started to remember the Canadian veterans of World War I, and then of World War II, and then of the Korean War, and now our Canadian peacekeepers, but why not use it to remember all wars everywhere, including the Canadians, the Americans, the British and everybody else who perished on this day, two years ago?