Ten years on and I still remember that day very well. I was working in Dublin, at a client site, looking down onto College Green. It happened that there were two other American’s in the office with me, my boss and a peer of mine. It was just another day. At some point, my peer got a phone call from her Mother in the states and said something crazy about a plane hitting the twin towers in New York. We all sat there rather shocked.
My initial instinct was to jump onto CNN.com and I couldn’t pull it up. Trying a few other news sites was similar. So I fell back to something that I knew would also be reliable, slashdot.org and lo and behold, things were going on (and the nerds of the world had found ways to directly access CNN, not through their load balancers, in order to get some information).
I will admit after that, things become a bit blurry, other than getting ahold of my sister, who was staying in my house in Chicago and hearing some of the news “real time”, which would be best described as utter chaos and panic. At some point, we decided it best we went home. Everyone was horrified and the constant banter, knowing we were Americans, of people asking us if our families were all right, etc, was getting a bit overwhelming. I don’t really remember clearly exactly how I got home, but I remember sitting their, in the lounge watching the news. My partner’s mum and step-dad were visiting us that week and I remember them asking if everything was ok. I think I was more deeply in shock than I think I was willing to admit and so I went up stairs and to bed way too early.
One of the things I think we collectively forgot was the anthrax attack that ensued afterwards. Maybe because we never found anyone to blame, like the plane attacks, or maybe because we all suspect and know it was a lone individual American, both of which don’t sit comfortably. There was lots of information and dis-information in the hours and days after the attacks. It was good news to hear that all my co-workers had been accounted for. We had some clients in the world trade center and some of our people were working there, so it wasn’t a forgone conclusion. Also, lots of my co-workers, who most of us flew every week, we stranded in all sorts of interesting places and all have their own stories about that time, but in the end, we were all safe.
The uncertainty and confusion that ensued after that was one of the things I remember. The good news was that people were behaving well, but it wasn’t easy. No one knew what to do. My partner and I had a trip back to Chicago booked on the 15th, and then I was going to go on to Phoenix to attend my 10 year High School reunion a week later. The problem was we didn’t know when the international travel ban would be lifted and we guessed it would be better to wait and hope for the best. Well the day of the 15th arrived and the ban wasn’t lifted until later in the day US time, so we had to rebook and the next time they could get us out was a week later.
We had planned for going away for a few weeks, so we didn’t have any food in the house. To complicate things, the Republic of Ireland had declared a national day of mourning on that Friday, out of respect. Everything would be closed. I felt compelled to visit the US Embassy and pay my respects, so I took that opportunity. I have never to this day seen something that moved me as much as the mass mourning that was occurring, the huge pile of memorial flowers and gifts that had been laid at the door, the makeshift tent that housed a guest book for people to sign and the length of queue of people paying their respects.
After that, I went to go to try to find us some food. We both were hungry, but the streets were literally abandoned. More abandoned than I had ever seen Dublin, including the World Cup. Nothing appeared to be open, except I found a Post Office/Mini Mart that had only planned to be open until 12:00 so that people could take out their pension money, but at 1PM they knew they wouldn’t be able to close because there was a queue out onto the street of people needing food and sundries. I was able to get two sandwiches and head back to the house.
We needed to go find some dinner too, and so the both of us ventured out and we found a petrol station that was open. There was a huge queue of cars trying to get petrol and the attached mini-mart’s shelves were essentially bare and the poor kid was spending all his time hauling stock out of the back and just dumping it and essentially as soon as it was available, people would snap it up and pay for it. I think we walked away with a couple bottles of sport drink and a packet or two of odd flavoured crisps. As we walked around Dublin, about 8PM, a few restaurants had decided to open and people started to wander the streets, like zombies as night fell. It was the strangest most bizarre experience I have had in a city.
A week later, we finally flew out to Chicago and I had re-arranged my trip to Phoenix by a day, so I was essentially flying in on a Friday to Chicago and then on Saturday flying to Phoenix for the reunion. Once we had set down in the US, I realised they had collectively gone mad. Instead of the experience I had in Dublin through the tragedy, which was somber, sad and respectful, I landed into a land of American flags, patriotism and anger. I just didn’t get it. I don’t know if I had been in the States when it occurred if I would have gotten caught up in the madness, but this was probably the start of my realisation that while I will always be proud of my birthright, my upbringing and my country that I am now not like the vast majority of Americans and will never be. It isn’t a good or bad thing, but your life influences your viewpoint and our markedly different collective experiences has put us on divergent paths that I don’t think will ever come together again.
Ten years on, I had to live through the scare of Simon living and working in London on the 7/7 bombings, seeing firsthand the damage at Glasgow airport and lost a cousin who was serving in the war in Iraq. Real, tangible events that have affected me in the post-9/11 world. That is on top of the countless times removing my shoes, being patted down, removing my belt, laptop and liquids while going through an airport. It is a different world.