The media, and the blogposphere has been full of all sorts of remembrances and commentary around today's ten year anniversary of the attacks on September 11, 2001.
To be honest I was trying to avoid the topic. Not out of any sense of personal pain, but more out of respect, for those people I know who were far closer to the events of that day than I was.
My experience that day was a surreal one. I had gotten up very early and caught a flight from Chicago Midway to Houston. I was heading there for work. It was about 20 minutes into the flight, the seat belt sign had just turned off, and people where shifting about, getting comfortable. I had just pulled out my laptop to work on the presentation I was going to be giving later that day. Suddenly the seat belt sign came back on, and the crew announced that everyone was to return to their seats and prepare for landing, the flight would be returning to Chicago.
The Pilot then came on the speaker system to say that there was nothing wrong with the plane, and we were returning to Chicago because the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) had ordered the flight to return to "clear air traffic". He said that was all the information they had, and he apologized for the inconvenience.
Everyone on the plane thought the same thing. (Not terrorism.) Chicago Midway had upgraded to a new Air Traffic Control System earlier in the Summer and a few weeks prior, there had been a series of glitches that had delayed several flights. Everyone groaned, made comments about "Government Efficiency" assuming it was yet another problem with Midway's system that was going to mess up our day.
A assumption that was bolstered by the fact that we were not returning to Midway but rather we were diverted to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.
The woman sitting next to me was happy about this thinking at least it might be easier to get on the next flight out to Houston. I nodded, and said "I hope so", thinking of how I might salvage the rest of my schedule that day and make my afternoon meetings on time.
It took us about 30 minutes of circling over O'Hare before we could land. Sitting in a window seat I watched as the line of planes waiting to land stretched to the far horizon and oddly enough, no planes were taking off. I commented on this to the woman next to me, and she said "wow Midway's systems must be really screwed up!" I laughed and said that what we get for Ronald Reagan having fired all the good Air Traffic Controllers. She laughed and said she had forgotten about that.
We landed and had to wait an additional 20 minutes to get a gate. but finally pulled up to a jetway , and we all lumbered off the plane into the gate area I was getting annoyed because people were not clearing the area in front of the door but were all standing around the televisions that were tuned to CNN Airport. I was about to say a loud "excuse me!" when I happened to look up at the TV and saw CNN replay footage from ABC of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center.
CNN then cut to live shot of a column of smoke and ash where the World Trade Center Towers were supposed to be, but weren't. I called my office and my boss told me not to come in, The area in downtown Chicago around the Sears Tower was being evacuated. I called my parents and let them know I was not in Houston, got on the CTA Blue Line and went home.
The rest of that day I did what most Americans did, watched the news, and when the images became overwhelming, I put on my roller blades and went blading along the Lake Michigan shoreline.
It was brilliant sunny day. One of those late Summer, early Fall days that you get in Chicago that make you appreciate what a beautiful city it is. As I stopped at Oak Street Beach and admired the downtown Chicago skyline, I didn't think that somehow the "world had changed". But rather I found myself thinking how the United States now had finally, sadly, had joined the rest of the world.
Before that that morning, Terrorism was something that happened in other places, Israel, Lebanon London, Belfast , places far away. Even the first World Trade Center bombing for many people, didn't seem like international terrorism. After all, the people responsible were caught when they tried to get the deposit back on the rental van they had used. (How sinister could people that dumb be?)
That is what changed I think, it was the moment America lost the illusion that somehow our two oceans would keep us safe from global terrorism.
For friends of mine who lived in New York on that day, I understand that this week is a much different experience for them. A good friend of mine is a New York City Police Officer who lost an arm in the attack that day. Another friend of mine worked for an investment bank housed in the North Tower, she had a doctors appointment so she didn't go into work that morning. For her, today is a reminder of the 15 friends and co-workers who she lost that day.
For the numerous friends of mine who have served, and currently serve in both Afghanistan and Iraq with the American and British Armed Forces, they deal with the effects September 11, 2001 on a far different level than most people ever will.
So this evening, I will attend the 9-11 memorial service here in London, at Westminster Abbey. Where people will remember the events of that day, pray for those who were lost, and show solidarity and support for friends for whom this anniversary is far more personal than political.
God Bless America, God bless us all.