No one will ever forget where she was on September 11, 2001. I remember it clearly like it were yesterday. My story is beside the point. But, it is all of our stories that make history.
My husband and I were riding the Chunnel from London to Paris as an early celebration of our first wedding anniversary. We were so very happy. I had been in private practice for 4 years. Life was near perfect.
On arrival, my husband and I went our separate ways as history unfolded: he to enjoy a café lunch and me to shop. When we were reunited we were still oblivious to the events until we went up to the hotel room and turned on the TV. Our first impressions of the planes hitting the towers were like many others: surreal, a bad dream or a film that needed to be paused to halt the events. We sat glued to the screen mouths gaping.
Later as we went out to dinner, it struck us how the tragedy created unity. Unity amongst total strangers on the streets. Unity amongst those in New York; from the firefighters to the countless tireless volunteers. All of us needing to talk to calm our fears. Who would do such a thing? Is there this much hatred for Americans? If it can happen in the United States, it can happen in France or for that matter anywhere? We listened to the worry of those who had relatives in New York but who could not get through the phone lines. We did not have any friends or family in New York City.
This feeling of unity was a far cry to the anti-Americanism I felt when first visiting France in 1992. We were having casual conversation with some local French when they queried what we did: we were all medical students. The comment made to us then was “Our doctors are less respected than our janitors.” Clearly, it was said to be mean.
For days after 9/11, we would buy the newspapers to read anything and everything we could. We felt isolated being so far from home. One day we would see a photo of a firefighter questioning whether he made it out alive after climbing into the towers to rescue others. Only to be relieved several days later when the next article was published stating said firefighter was alive.
In addition to all the heroism, it was all the stories of the victims and those they left behind which have remained with me. I could and did cry buckets for these unknown people. This August’s issue of Glamour featured letters relatives wrote to those they lost on 9/11. One letter in particular made me cry. It was written by a now 39-year-old woman who was 5 weeks away from being married when her fiancée was killed in the towers. It was a beautifully written letter, one I am sure would have made her fiancée smile. I was even sadder when I read her profile. There was no mention of a husband or children. It struck me as sad. Sad as she would have been married and perhaps even had children had 911 not occurred?
On a larger scale, did we all miss the opportunity to keep the unity felt in those early days after 911 going? This recent post highlights some of the missed opportunity. I would to think on a personal level, we strive to teach our children tolerance and acceptance, which are necessary for living in a unified world. But somehow, I cannot help to think that we did miss the opportunity to keep the unity going.
Where were you on 911? Did you know anyone who lost their life? What were your early thoughts? And do you think we missed an opportunity?