Monday, September 12, 2011

10 years ago (in Australia)

I'm not any good at poignant writing, I'm afraid. I wanted to give a glimpse from another country on that day, from another part of the planet. We will never be able to understand what it was like to be in the USA on that day.

Yesterday I walked to the park down the road from us to get some fresh air. There was a whole park full of birthday parties and children playing. All of them were younger than ten. None of them were on this earth when it happened. Life has gone on, and I don't want to look at those images any more, but I still find tears at the thought of those people who died on that day, and those who have lived ten years without them.

It will never be a symbol for me, just a giant mess of loss. The Bali bombings are the same. So many gaping holes in lives where there used to be people. Some of them stick with you more than others, but they all matter.

I am Australian. I have not yet been to the USA, although it is on the cards. I grew up immersed in the culture of the United States via television, and taught myself to read and spell from Sesame Street. Mulder and Scully were my teenage idols and Friends was a staple at my residential college. Parts of the country are so idealised in my imagination that it would almost be a shame to visit and have that picture brought back to reality.

Like so many of my generation, I feel very close in spirit to the country, her citizens and parts of our shared culture. Ten years ago, we watched and wept, too.

I was in my last months of my first university degree, getting ready to marry the man who is now my husband, in the middle of worrying about the wedding, job applications for the next year and my final exams.

Like the majority of the Australian population, I live on the eastern coast of our country. I was fast asleep when the twin towers were hit. Some of my family had been up watching the late news, but they hadn't contacted me - they are quite practical so I imagine they didn't the point. They knew I would hear soon enough.

The next morning, on our September 12, I turned on the tv as I got ready for uni. I walked across the room and saw the images of the planes and thought it was another promo for a Hollywood blockbuster. As I sat down to eat breakfast, I read the scrolling text and listened to the newsreaders and the reality began to sink in.

Passenger planes had hit the twin towers in the middle of New York, nobody knew how many people had been killed, nobody knew who had done it or why, and nobody knew who would be next. I felt sick, but all we were getting at that point in time were pictures of burning buildings and estimated numbers. I could hardly tell the news to my fiance- I just got him to watch the tv, too.

I still went to university that morning. I caught the ferry into the city, as usual. My route took me through an affluent part of town along the river, and the main stop was the financial district. Normally the ferry was packed with people in suits. That day there were only 4 people on board.

Two others were students and there was one businesswoman. I overheard her on her mobile phone. Most of her colleagues had stayed home because the head office of their company had been in the WTC and nobody knew if any of them had gotten out. Australia has huge ties financially with the USA. Many of the big financial businesses with offices in the city either had head offices in the WTC, or had very close contacts and partnerships with people there.

At uni, everybody was in a bit of a daze. Many of them were in denial, many were avoiding thinking about it, and some, like me, could not get it out of our heads. There were large TV screens in the business school on campus that were normally tuned to the market information. That day they were full of footage of planes repeatedly slamming into buildings, falling bodies, people weeping and crying in desperation, and speculation on numbers. My least favourite part (as always) was crass speculation about whether Australia would be next.

I tried hard not to weep, and mostly succeeded. Most of the crying came later. Sometimes it still does. I cry for those whose family members never made it home. For the sheer and utter cruelty of an act that would attack innocent people and kill them in the thousands, all because of some twisted ideology and misplaced rage.

In the months that followed, so many people wore shirts with the USA flag on them, or "I *heart* New York", even those who had never been to the USA and had no family connections. We all felt so powerless and sad.

One pointless death is a tragedy. I still have no words for the loss on the scale that was experienced that day. It rocked our sense of what was safe, of what was untouchable, of what twisted individuals would actually do in their depravity. It was followed in the years to come by multiple other international incidents.

One year, one month and one day later, they bombed Bali. Having known some of the victims who made it back, part of me shares the sense of rage that accompanies the loss. There is no justice in this world that could possibly be fitting for people who do these acts.

You go about your life, and everyday tragedies happen. God forbid they happen to us or anybody close, but they will and do happen. We all die, sooner or later. The sheer scale, intent and the fact of the occurrences on the 11th of September, 2001, is something that I don't think any of us will ever really get over.

We will never forget.


KT said...

Beautifully written. A joy to read.

I was watching The West Wing, and there was a news update on Channel 9 regarding the first plane. They went back to The West Wing (wish I could recall the specific episode), so I flicked to Channel 10 and stayed there. I watched the second plane hit and I called my Mum, who I knew would still be awake. I was sobbing. I was on the phone to her when the first tower went down. I stayed awake all night - couldn't stop watching, though in hindsight I should've stopped - and didn't go to work the next day. I recall having a bath sometime the next day, and bawling my eyes out.

Milk and Two Sugars said...

I echo KT's words: beautifully written and the sentiments so true. Thank you for your perspective.

Sara said...

Hey where / when are you going to visit?

The Girl said...

Thanks for the comments. :)

KT, that sounds like I would have reacted had I seen it all the night before, too.

Sara, there are no clear plans in the near future - I'll probably visit in a couple of years when there is a good conference on and I have the time/money/leave available.