The Day the World Changed

Forgive me.  This post isn’t fitness related at all, but it is something I needed to put down in words today.

It’s been 15 years since I watched live video of the second plane hitting the World Trade Centre (I’ve seen the footage replayed a million times since then, but that day I saw it live).  I had been there a year before with a class trip, and taken photos of a skyline that ceased to exist as we knew it on September 11, 2001.

It was my second day of classes in university, and I was on the phone with the guy who had sold me my first new computer, having issues yet again (oh, Windows ’98). The tech was walking me through troubleshooting, and suddenly went silent.

“Oh my god.” He said “The World Trade Centre just collapsed.”

I kind of mumbled an acknowledgment.   I thought he meant some sort of financial collapse.

“A plane hit it.”  He said.

My head snapped up.  That couldn’t be right.  There would be people there.  It was Tuesday morning.

I don’t remember what else was said or how the call ended, but I remember stumbling into the dorm’s common room, where the TV was already turned to CNN.  I got there in time to see the second tower go down, and we just watched as it was shown again and again.  The room was full of crying 18-and 19-year-old girls, glued to the screen even though we knew what we would keep seeing.  At some point our residence advisor came in and told us that classes were cancelled for the day, before sitting down with us.

Now it’s important to note that I am Canadian.  I am from Canada, and on September 11, 2001, I was attending a Canadian university.  That day, our world changed too.

New York City is about a 10 hour drive from here, maybe 12 from where I lived then.  When you grow up in a province the size of Ontario,  that’s awfully close.  There’s a border in between, sure, but geographically,  we’re damned-near neighbours.  That day, our safety bubble was burst.  The girls in my dorm murmured amongst themselves about what it all meant.  “World War III” was repeated over and over again, and we prayed it wouldn’t come to that.  Girls went to their rooms to call boyfriends and girlfriends, best friends, parents, anyone they could draw comfort from.  For most of us, it was our first time living away from home, and the world had just become a very terrifying place.

I won’t delve into the politics of the tragedy or the months that followed.  Over the past 15 years, millions have lost their lives as a result of the chain of events set in motion that day.  There are differing opinions on the matter – whether it was a government set-up, whether they retaliated against the “right” people (if retaliation was ever the right answer).  It doesn’t matter.  It was a terrible tragedy that led to further tragedies, and NONE of it ever should have happened.

The world I grew up in – the safe, mainly peaceful life I’d had until then – vanished that morning.  I grew up with the mentality that we in Canada were safe.  Naiive, I know, but the general idea was that the U.S. would keep us protected.  No one would attack them, and by extension, no one would attack us for fear of incurring their wrath – after all, we were friends.  (Like I said, it was a naiive way of thinking, but it was just sort of a general consensus).  Then they were attacked, and we were no longer safe.  Our open border all but slammed shut.  Travel as we knew it changed.  Wars began.  Boys I went to school with – now men – flew overseas.  Over the years, more and more of those boys came home via the Highway of Heroes, to be honoured at Canadian Forces Base Trenton before being sent home to be mourned by their families.

In April of last year, my partner and I took a trip back to New York City.  We went to see a Broadway show, but took the week to explore the city again.  There were a lot of changes – more than just the obvious, but much of the city was the same.  Then we took a walking tour of the site of the World Trade Centre, where a powerful memorial still stands.

It’s hard to breathe there somehow.  Maybe it’s a subconscious thought of the dust and smoke that would have filled the air for weeks after the tragedy.  Maybe it’s the ghosts of everyone who fell there.  There is a haunted feeling at the memorial – I suspect it is.  You can’t help but tear up when standing by the pools, the pain is palpable. The granite railings around the waterfalls are etched with the names of the victims, and they say that each stream of water represents a life lost.  It’s beautiful and terrible at the same time, but I would go back in a heartbeat to stand there again.

The fire department across the street, where many of the first responders originated, has its own memorial wall – a reminder of those who risked or gave their lives for the survivors.

 

If anything good came out of that tragedy, it was a show of the courage and kindness of regular people.  The firefighters and the soldiers, but also the civilians.  The people who opened their homes to stranded passengers, the survivors who risked their lives to help colleagues, friends, and total strangers escape the burning towers.  There were non-human heroes too – search and rescue dogs, therapy animals, even service animals who guided their owners to safety.  Tragedy brings out the best and worst in the world, and we certainly saw both.

I wish I had a different world to show my future children.  I wish I had a way to turn it back into what it was before September 11, 2001, because it was different then.  I’ve seen society progress so much in my lifetime, but I don’t know if it will ever recover from that day.

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