Back in September 2001 (a Tuesday, if I recall correctly), I had a day off from work, and I was at home downloading music with Napster.
For those who don’t know, Napster was a free file sharing service back in those days, and it was about the only way I could get new music because I was totally broke. (My job waitressing in my brother’s tea shop didn’t pay very well!) Downloading a track with Napster was hit and miss. Assuming my internet connection worked, which was never a certainly (and it was slow, in any case), I then had to depend on the other person’s connection also being reliable. If the other person went offline, which people did in those days, the download would just stop, and occasionally it would take days to get a particular track I wanted.
When a new song finally finished downloading, I usually played it on loop to take time to really appreciate it while I waited for the next one.
Love’s the Only House by Martina McBride had just finished, and I had set it playing, when the phone rang, and I hurried to answer it.
“Turn the TV on,” my brother said. “Quickly.”
“Why?” Excitement and fear clutched at me. The last event I had felt worthy of that degree of attention was the collapse of the Berlin Wall 12 years earlier.
“Just turn it on,” he said.
“Doesn’t matter. Any channel.”
I grabbed the remote and hit the button for BBC1 … and an image came into focus of the World Trade Center, with smoke pouring from one of its towers. I sank to the floor in front of the TV, while my brother’s voice in one ear explained what everyone thought had happened.
Everyone I’ve spoken to who was alive the day John F Kennedy was assassinated says they can remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news. I suspect those of us who were alive on 9/11, the day the world as we knew it was turned upside-down, will be able to say the same thing.
I knelt on the floor in front of the TV for hours, as the events of that day unfolded, and as the truth of what had happened gradually came out. And while I knelt there, Martina McBride sang:
Love’s the only house that’s big enough for all the pain in the world.
Over … and over … and over again.
What happened after 9/11, and what continues to happen now, shocked me to the core. I’ve never understood the hate and violence – on both sides – that’s led to devastation and continuing unrest in parts of the Middle East, Asia and North Africa, and to loss of freedom in the name of counter-terrorism.
The worst thing, to my mind, to have come from 9/11 is the belief many people now share that it’s OK to invade a sovereign territory if you think terrorists might be hiding there.
I recall one particular event back in the summer of 1982, when I was 8 years old. Soldiers from the Blues and Royals were riding through Hyde Park in London, as they did every day on their way to Buckingham Palace. Of the soldiers and horses who started their journey to work that day, 3 men and 7 horses wouldn’t leave Hyde Park alive (and a 4th man died later in hospital). An IRA bomb was detonated as they passed, along with another that exploded in Regents Park 2 hours later, killing another 7 men.
As a horse-crazy young girl, I followed the story closely, and soon discovered the problem with IRA members who were wanted for crimes within the UK. They were very good at keeping themselves hidden, and only surfaced in the safety of their home country. Getting them extradited was always difficult.
I asked my mother why we didn’t just send the army into Ireland to get them, and she simply said,
“That would be starting a war. We don’t do that.”
Apparently, now we do.
All sorts of conspiracy theories have sprung up regarding the events of 9/11, and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but that isn’t what this post is about. Whatever the reasons for the decisions that were made, nothing could have happened without hate and anger fuelling people’s actions.
The hatred of the terrorists for America and all that it stands for.
The hatred of some Americans and other westerners for terrorists … for Muslim extremists … for Muslims.
And the cycle of violence, and the cycle of hate, go on.
Somewhere on 9/11, watching the towers fall, with Martina McBride’s mantra in my ears, I got left behind. Most of the events I remember from that day are of people risking their lives (and many times dying) in the attempt to save others. They are actions of courage … of heroism … of love.
If we really want to win the war against terror – against hate – fuelling our own actions with fear and hatred is futile.
If we could all just learn to love, we might be able to change the world.