Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11


When the September 11 attacks happened I was living in the UK. I was at HTML training course that day. The trainer said, 'Okay, now open a browser window and go to the BBC website'. There was a screengrab of the twin towers, smoke billowing out of them. At first it seemed like a sick joke. And then we continued our training. No-one really understood the enormity of it. I don't think anyone could really believe it.

My (now) wife and I were booked to fly to New York the following week. (We ended up going in October. It was the first time I'd ever been scared of flying, and that fear persists to some degree even today. There were US flags in virtually every window. Lower Manhattan stank. I was surprised at how up-beat New Yorkers were -- they were getting on with their lives).

We came home to the share flat we were living in that evening and the TV was on, and those same pieces of vision playing over and over again. The second plane hitting. The towers falling. I still think no-one could believe it.

I was part of an online writing group back then. I'd entered a short story competition and I won. On September 10 I posted in the forum. Topic: 'Has the world gone mad?' The words had a slightly different meaning a day later.

The events of September 11 had a lot of us questioning what we were doing with our writing. People (including myself) wondered whether we should be writing such dark stories, when the world seemed so dark, all of a sudden.

When I told that story when I was on a horror writing panel at Conjure in 2006, someone in the audience said -- I can't remember her exact words, but the gist was that the lives lost in the September 11 attacks paled into insignificance compared with lives lost in the third world (or maybe she was referring specifically to the ensuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq). And I couldn't answer her. I couldn't articulate what it was about September 11 that made it different to all that other death and suffering.

Over the past could of weeks I've been working on the ABC's '9/11 Remembered' coverage. And I think that this is the first time I've really reflected on the events of September 11.

The thing that really gets me is 'Day before the storm: photos from September 10, 2001'. The photo I've used above, by Mike Horan, is a perfect example. On September 10, 2001, people were just going about their lives. Mike, like probably thousands of people that day, posed for a photo in front of the twin towers.

"...the date has the appearance of a timer counting down the dying moments of an old world since replaced by the tense and paranoid world we live in today"

Who would have thought that those towers would be gone less than 24 hours later? There's so much melancholy in those photos. They raise the question of 'what if?' over and over again.

That resonates with me because I'm fascinated by stories about the small choices people make, and the impact those choices have on their lives.

The other reason September 11 had such a massive impact because it was carnage on an untold scale, live on TV... and it was spectacular. The second plane hit when cameras were trained on the twin towers due to the first impact.

Anyway, it's been quite a rough seven days, to be honest. I keep thinking about all those people who died. People who just got up to go to work and never came home again. People who were faced with the choice of being burnt to death or jumping out a window. And I also think about the terrorists who carried out the attacks, and what sort of lives they had, that they decided that's what they had to do to make a difference.

I keep seeing the twin towers in my mind. Thinking, 'what it?'.


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