Toronto Star from Sept 12/01(which I kept) and Toronto Star/New York Times Sept 11/11
My story is no different from many of the stories of people whose eyes were transfixed on New York City on this day ten years ago.
My husband had gone off to work and after washing the dishes I sat with my six month old son on the day bed to prepare for a nap. I opened the window because it was one of the hottest days that summer and laid down to breastfeed him. Since Breakfast television was settling into its lifestyle programming for the day I switched to CNN and dozed off.
I don’t know why I woke up, but I remember that it was really quiet in the room. I looked up at the television and saw a smoldering building. For a second I thought I was watching an action movie, but it was too quiet to be a movie. I don’t know how long the silence lasted, but as I was trying to figure out what I was watching a plane came out of nowhere and hit the second tower. Screaming erupted from the television. A news reporter appeared and what I heard from then on became a stream of gibberish and information. I heard something about the Pentagon and something about tower malfunctions and then terrorists and then something about war.
I called my husband because in my mind, planes were hitting all these business and government buildings. The world was going to erupt in my imagination. It didn’t matter to me that we were in Toronto, but at that point I just believed all the planes in all the world were being used as missiles everywhere and obliterating the world in smoke.
There was construction being done to our building, so when I finally reached my husband on the phone, I could barely hear him. I told him that there was so much fire and debris falling out of the towers that surely these buildings would topple over. He reassured me and reminded me that not too long ago we had seen a documentary explaining that all those office buildings, the Sears Tower for example, had been built to withstand the impact of planes and explosions. In the midst of that conversations and in the midst of all the jackhammers outside my window, the news camera panned up in close up of the towers. I saw the people in the windows with white sheets and shirts. I saw my first jumper. Then I saw another one and another one and my heart, my soul, my entire being sank and that’s when I screamed.
My poor son woke up in a start and mother’s instinct stuck a breast in his mouth and covered his face with my arm so he be blissfully unaware of what was going on in my head and in the world.
I told my husband to come home. I begged him to come home. Like many, he was let home early. Not too long later the first tower fell. Then the other one did too.
From that moment and for a few months after, all I could think about were the jumpers. A long time ago, as a teenager, I stood on a chair by a balcony edge while my little sister slept inside. I’d tell you what was happening and I’d tell you what led me to that point, but this really isn’t about that. It’s about the fact that I chose to get down and run inside to be with my sister because I couldn’t leave her alone.
Those 9/11 jumpers didn’t have a choice. Every hero that went into that building to help, had no choice, they did their job. The victims of that day had no choice. Stupid teenage me had a choice and I can’t believe until this day that I was worthy of that choice.
When my husband finally arrived we both lay on the floor watching the news. I’d occasionally flip the channel to get different perspectives. I remember being impressed that PBS kept their regular children’s programming. I also remember looking for live footage of the triage setups in Manhattan and not finding much. We kept the television on all night and I kept waking up to ask my husband, “Did they find anyone yet?”
“Honey, I don’t think anyone can survive that,” he replied.
That sentence has stuck with me since. You see, that day we made the decision that if we were going to have another child, we might as well do it then. It was out of a need for immediate resolution, maybe consolation, that we needed to change our lives to live for the now. I look back now and I look back in anger.
There was a huge opportunity that day that was lost. I’ve been a human rights activist since 1989 and it was the Human Rights Now! tour, Nelson Mandela’s release, and the many changes in the world of activism in the eighties that influenced me to try to make a change in the world. I really believed that the events of 9/11 would change the world for the better. I naively believed that the powers that be would finally take heed and take this as a lesson for compassion and peace. I was so wrong.
Instead of bringing my children into a positively changed world, I brought them into a world that continues to spiral out of control. It’s a world filled with conflict, strife, famine, suspicion, and paranoia, where wars are still fought in the name of power and the dollar. Things in the world aren’t inherently evil, but the world keeps losing out on opportunities for peace and taking advantage of it for greed. I stupidly keep thinking this will change.
Don’t get me wrong, humanity is still here. In the wreckage of 9/11 there were stories of heroism, love and the strength of the human heart. In the wrath of hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes since then, are stories of compassion and kindness that melt even the coldest soul. Unfortunately, though what we see in a local scale in this situations has yet to be seen in a macro world setting. When are we going to have the opposite of 9/11? When can we ever change that into a positive?
This past spring, I visited New York City. I fell in love with that city so hard and it’s become my second home. I will visit every year now that I can. I felt opportunity everywhere, took chances and risks with every place that I took in and visited. At Ground Zero, I toured the memorial and the area. I don’t think anything could have prepared me for it, but I did my best to hold back the tears. At Bryant Park, I looked back at where the towers once stood and the tears flowed freely. I could barely fathom what it must be like for the city’s citizens.
Last night at dinner, I brought up that I was glad I didn’t have cable today. My television would be bombarded by memorials and subtle justifications for the wars that are still currently fought in the name of this day. A friend of mine said, “I don’t need to be shown footage of that day again. I remember very distinctly what I saw and what I felt that day. I won’t forget it. How could you possibly forget it. I don’t need to relive it.”
He then said, “The most embarrassing thing is that those towers aren’t rebuilt yet. It took Dubai a few months to build a tower a kilometre in height and these people are still squabbling over air rights to this sacred space.”
It’s true. There is this universal sickening feeling that hasn’t left any of us. It started on that third day when we heard of “taking action” and finding the people responsible for that act of terrorism. It’s that feeling in the pit of my stomach that said, “Oh god what are they going to do?” or “What happening?” or “What do I do with this?”
Another friend last night who is visiting from the States said it best in a post-G20 Toronto riot sort of way, “It’s not the same in Toronto these days. I want to come back to the city I grew up in and hang out like I used to, kind of like reliving my childhood and I know I can’t get that back. There’s this anger here now. Everyone is angry and there’s an undercurrent darkness now. Things don’t seem right.”
It’s a butterfly effect. September 2001, started a new path for a lot of people. The little things in the big things that happened created new epiphanies and changes in lives. It is often said that day changed the world forever.
I decided to have my daughter. A beautiful and amazing person came into my life and she breathed new life into it. My son has grown into a thoughtful and determined young boy and I don’t ever regret having both of them. It is because of them that I face my own life with renewed hope and strength. However, I can’t help, but feel guilty when I read about the profit corporations make on water, the profit they on make on making us diet, the profit they make in making us unhealthy, the profit…the profit.
I feel guilty because even if I manage to help my children overcome the obstacles that come along with having autism, there is still a world out there that is driven on choice of living in the now of entitlement, and not in the now for enlightenment. I look back and think, “Weren’t we supposed to have solved world hunger by now? Weren’t we supposed to save the planet? Weren’t we supposed to……..?”
I selfishly brought these kids into a world where they must still fight prejudice, discrimination and hate.
We had a choice and we keep messing it up, world.
On this day, September 11, 2011 I pledge to try to do more to make this world better. I may live for myself and for my children, but dammit, the earth isn’t a bunch of cities, it’s home. The people across the world suffering, they might be strangers, but they’re human and they’re family.
Let’s make positive choices. Let’s make compassionate progress. Let’s stop being blissfully unaware and let’s finally, consciously with all the intentions to move forward, let us begin to care.
We are standing on the edge and I wait for the wave.