9/11 Ten Years On

Based on the header, you will know that I am back in London where coverage of the 9/11 terrorist attacks is non-stop. I feel as though I’ve over-eaten. It is too much for me, so it isn’t much of a stretch to think that it is also too much for you. Nevertheless, I will share my personal 9/11 experience. I was flying from London to the States when I heard the news. The following is a recollection column that I wrote some nine years ago for the Wet Mountain Tribune.


Extreme turbulence had me on the edge of queasy. The beverage carts and the flightattendants who manned them were both locked down.

Tightening my seatbelt, I assumed a studied attitude of nonchalance. Surreptitiously, without removing the instructions from the pocket, I tried to read the plastic coated card that told me how to act “In the Event of Emergency.” I wished that I could remember the details regarding flotation devices. Was the device under the seat or was the cushion itself the device?

And then the pilot’s voice came over the intercom. “I have some” (his voice cracked) “I have some very bad news.”

My first thought was “We are going down and my affairs are not in order. This is not a good time for me to go.”

The pilot continued, “We have just been notified of terrorist attacks in New York. Our destination is St. John’s, Newfoundland. When I know more, you will know more.” Moments later, he turned on the radio in the cabin so the passengers could hear the news as it was breaking.

My first response was one of relief. Other people might be dying, but the good news was I was not. My relief was primitive and not flattering.

While the Twin Towers burned and ultimately consumed nearly 3,000 people… while one plane flew into the Pentagon… while another plane crashed in a Pennsylvania cornfield… while thousands of work-a-day people showed courage under fire… my fellow passengers and I on Delta flight 11 were about to join other international travelers on Fantasy Island. Within six hours, 27 planes landed in an airport that normally received only four trans-Atlantic flights per week.

Security demanded that we de-plane with only our passports. My flight was assigned to Mary’s Sacred Heart Regional High School. Once there, teachers, students and the community lavished us with food, favors and their undivided attention.

We slept Spartan: four strangers to each wrestling mat, but the townsfolk brought us with sheets, pillows and blankets torn warm from their very own beds. Donated towels,  toiletries and clothing made life without luggage more pleasant.

Live music, free manicures, sight-seeing, hiking, art therapy, games and pub crawls distracted us from the outside world. Under the supervision of teachers and students, young passengers spent their four days in “camp.”

Yes, we watched television, but watching was limited. The staff and students kept us occupied. Every time I sought solitude, an eager student would try to engage me in a group activity.

If I ever needed reminding that our perceptions are framed by our experiences, this was it. While the world-at-large shuddered at man’s inhumanity to man, I basked in the loving arms of community.


If you had asked me at the time… if you asked me yesterday… I would have said that the events of 9/11 did not affect me personally. But that was yesterday.

Today, as I was walking back from the market to the flat, I thought a picture of a long line of Regency-style houses would make a good header. So I raised my camera and took a couple of shots.

Only to hear an irate, Middle Eastern woman scream at me: “Are you taking pictures of my children!”

My goodness I was shocked. I lowered the camera and answered, “I didn’t see your children. I was photographing the houses.”

She looked at me hard. Time passed while she decided. I gave her my best grandmother look. Finally she said, “You can’t be too careful these days.” And then she turned and entered her house.

My response was to think, “I need to write about this!” And I walked away framing the story in my head. And then I got to the part where she was a Middle Eastern woman. And I stopped short. Yes, she was Middle Eastern, but any careful, wary London mother could have confronted me. Mentioning that she was Middle Eastern would be unfair to her… and yet… and yet a part of me wanted to add the Middle Eastern bit. Why was that? Perhaps 9/11 touched me more than I thought.

My husband says our basest instincts are tribal. I think he may be right.

Rising above the tribal: that’s the thing.

Writers’ Trigger:

    • Write about 9/11. Consider your thoughts on the day and then move to the present. Has time changed you and your thoughts? How so?

If you haven’t read Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, you should give it a look. Based on the tightrope walker who frolicked between the Twin Towers in 1974, McCann’s book focuses on the walker (not named in the novel but in actuality, Philippe Petit) but surrounds him with a wide range of New Yorkers whose lives interconnect that day. The drawing below is by Andre Da Loba. It accompanied a review by Jonathan Mahler of McCann’s book and ran in the 7/29/09 issue of the New York Times Magazine.

The Net

Read the book. It is that sense of connectedness that buffers us from tribalism.

About timeout2

I have lived 100 lives. I write essays, short stories, poetry, grocery lists and notes to myself. If I am ever lost, look for a paper trail, but be careful not to trip over any books that lie scattered here and there. I am a reader. I am a reader in awe of writers. When I don't live in Westcliffe, Colorado, I live in London where I am a long-time member of Word-for-Word - Crouch End.
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2 Responses to 9/11 Ten Years On

  1. So many memories crowd my brain of place, time, circumstance, —where to start? In a motel room in San Francisco waiting for the daughter of my visitor from England to advise us of her arrival time next day. Turning on television as the first tower began to crumble — is this a movie?Having driven in from Phoenix with a malfunctioning radio, we had heard only scratchy music –no news, and wanted only to relax — then total disbelief, shock, and my “visitor” going into a tirade about the “bloody Irish that had been blowing up parts of the UK and were now across the pond”!!!
    I remember being rebuked for my tears as I watched in horror as the second tower went down —
    “after all, we had escaped months of such devastation while the Brits suffered daily” etc.,etc. I could not respond except to go into the bathroom and lock the door until some reasonable thoughts could surface. After many hours of trying to reach the daughter we learned that her flight was canceled as she was boarding (all planes were grounded indefinitely) and her long anticipated “holiday in America” was not to be.
    Cancelling all planned excursions in California, my desire was to get back to Arizona as soon as possible, so after attending a service in a nearby Cathedral that was packed tightly with grieving Americans, and threading through the masses outside hearing via speakers, we walked to the car still stunned — and with nothing to say — and headed home.

  2. timeout2 says:

    Dear Lynne, I enjoyed reading your comments. Sorry to take so long to reply – for whatever reason, your comments had gone to spam rather than to print. Yes, “the bloody Irish.” Thankfully more common ten years ago than today. The greater suffering of the brits during WWII is always lurking below the surface, and every so often it raised its head and verbalizes the injustice of it all – how England suffered and America got rich. As a representative American, I have been attacked a number of times. It is not a topic that I want to debate: I understand why you needed to lock yourself in the loo to compose yourself. On such an emotional topic, an exchange of ideas/perspective is not possible. That you were “stunned – with nothing to say,” you have said it well. How do you wrap the words around the event? Thanks for writing. Love, Doris

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