Suzy Snapper
Monday, September 11, 2006
The Days That Change Your Life
On September 10, I'd never heard of blogs. I'd never thought to question that what was shown on the evening news might not be the complete and utter truth. My interest in current affairs was strong back then, but from a decidedly superficial view.

There's a few posts today that have truly caught my eye and heart. One is at Daimnation!, a Canadian perspective on the events of that day. And Girl On The Right asks us if we remember what normal was?

When I first flipped on the TV, my first thought was disbelief. Followed very quickly by a deep foreboding. I called my mother and my first words that day was 'The world's gone MAD!'. The funny thing was all 4 of my brothers had also called her. In times of stress, don't we all just want our Mothers? It was only 6:30 in the morning, yet still my Mom was the one that gave me that calm reassurance that we'd get through this together.

Many planes were diverted to the Vancouver International Airport as well (Gander was the Eastern gate) and I remember driving by the tarmac that afternoon and seeing more planes than I'd ever thought possible. I knew at a very core level then that everything had changed.
Thank you for sharing your remembrance.

This is what I wrote back on December 12, 2004 of my remembrances of September 11. I will repeat it today.

The days you remember always

There are a few days in your life where you remember every second like you are still living it. Snapshots of time that seem to live on in some sort of infinite loop in your memory bank. Some are personal, like the time my Mom called from the back of an ambulance to tell me they'd been hit head-on and my Dad didn't look good or how I was with when my cousin when she died. Some are more localized, like the Tall Ships Festival in 2002 here when we had 400,000 people come to check out the beautiful ships and entertainment in my village. 4 days of amazing sights, but imagine 400,000 people in your backyard and well, it ain't all so sweet.

Then there are the moments of time that change history. Change your entire perspective and everyone around you. Those moments that generations of people talk about. I grew up hearing my grandparents tell me of seeing the Titanic in dock being built. They came to Canada on the ship just before the Titanic called the Teutonic. Thankfully, it's experience with icebergs was a little bit more fortunate. My parents would tell me stories of growing up in the Depression, of the War where my mom's brother fought, and later, of the day Kennedy was shot. How the world felt like it stood still that day, and the schools were all closed even here in his honour. My Mom was a news junkie too, but in those days, it was mostly print news and she has kept the newspapers from every major event since the 60's. Those are some of my most prized possessions.

In my 3 1/2 decades, my generation has experienced a few momentous occasions of it's own. One of my oldest memories is of hearing that Elvis died. I remember this well because I was in the backseat of my sister-in-law's yellow VW Bug. She was driving and my other sister-in-law (although she was just Girlfriend then) was in the passenger seat. The news came over the AM radio and she freaked and swerved the car off the road narrowly missing a pole. Yeah, won't be forgetting that moment.

Others that stick in my memory like little frayed bookmarks include Lennon's death (although at 10, I thought it was the guy from the Odd Couple - Jack Lemmon), Mt. St. Helen's eruption (we heard the sonic boom here), and of course, Diana's death. That last one was a little more personal as I was in England about a week after her funeral and the flowers were still piled 3 feet high at the cathedral and at Buckingham Palace. The smell of flowers in the air as you walked close was overwhelming! We also drove through the tunnel in Paris and saw the skid marks still fresh where she and Dodi died. You could have heard a pin drop on that tour bus and I'm sure all 47 on the bus that day would remember it well.

This brings me to my point for today. September 11. A day that will always instill great sadness and coldness in me. Some have moved on and most people don't really even want to talk about it anymore, but it made deep marks in my conscience. I was asked by an American friend recently about how I remembered it. He didn't realize that other countries grieved along with the Americans, or that Canada was effected the way it was. I don't know if his feelings were indicative of most Americans or if my memories are not of a typical Canadian, for that matter. But that day plays in my head often. Oddly, I somehow seem to look at the clock when it displays 9:11 almost every day. Another friend of mine does this too. We've tried to theorize that we probably look at the clock at other times but the other times don't register on our consciousness. Probably true, but it still seems to touch a nerve each time.

September 11, 2001. I woke up early as we were having a "company day", a sort-of play nice and bond outside of the regular duties kind of event. It was being held at a local movie theatre and we had to meet there at 8am. Usually my day doesn't even start until then. So I set my alarm for 6:00am. I woke up and as I do every day, I flipped on the TV and saw the WTC smoking. It was the oddest sensation, and my brain didn't want to even take it in. Then I saw the smoke rising up in Washington, DC from a distance. I thought, I don't can't see New York from Washington! In 1999, I had traveled to DC for a friend's wedding and we'd taken a side trip to New York. So these images on the screen weren't just familiar sites, I'd been there! I'd flown over the Pentagon and I'd stood in the lobby of the WTC (we didn't have time to go to the top). It just didn't make sense.

I stood transfixed to the screen, as so many of us did. I saw the second plane make it's perilous trek. I couldn't comprehend it at all. I remember feeling so confused and scared. Very scared. Just after 7, I called my Mom and the first words I could spit out were 'Turn on the news. The world has gone mad.' My brothers apparently also called her soon after. It's strange. No matter how old you are, you still need to hear your Mom's voice sometimes.

Driving to work, I felt physically ill. I turned on the news radio and heard the newscaster saying "It's collapsing right now. It's 7:27am here, 10:27 there, and the tower has collapsed. Nothing seemed real. Everything seemed just wrong. I didn't want to go to work. I didn't want to play nice with everyone else. I wanted to stay home, and stare at the TV screen. I thought about my friends in New York, and in DC and wondered how they were and if they were ok.

I arrived at the movie theatre, and met two coworkers and told them the news. They hadn't been listening to the news and had no idea. They both looked ill and one was a Middle Eastern fellow and I'll never forget his words..."Life will never be the same again." In the movie theatre, our president came to the microphone and said they had considered canceling the event, but instead decided it would be good for us to bond under difficult circumstances. Then we stood for a minute of silence. Many people were crying.

The event of the day was a photo scavenger hunt. I wasn't part of the team but instead stayed behind to help with the organization. Because I wasn't at my desk, I was unable to get in touch with my American friends and that weighed heavy on my mind. I called my Mom throughout the day and heard the updates as they came in. Things like '40,000 dead' and that there were more than a dozen planes missing. Of course, these later ended up to be false but at the time, there was a feeling of this being the Armageddon. When airspace was closed, planes began to be diverted to Vancouver and other Canadian cities. There were CF-18's in our airspace circling and our airport was becoming deluged with stranded Americans.

While we waited during the day, we began to hear stories from our colleagues. One staff member's husband was talking to a broker when the planes hit and they were cut off. Another staffer we later found out visited WTC on her vacation just the day before. Our HR Department started doing a head count of who was where in our company. Although a Canadian company, many of our execs and employees are American and it affected many of our group personally. It was great to see how much our company did for those of our group (and their families) that were stuck and no expense was spared to ensure they didn't have more trouble than needed.

In the afternoon, another friend and I decided to try to find a television. We had been getting updates from people who called in but we had to see for ourselves. So he and I went through the mall by the theatre and finally found a tv in a sport store. He and I sat there on the shoe bench, watching the tv with a group of about 30 people and tears dripped like rivers on our faces. Everywhere you looked, people were crying and one thing that struck me was that everyone looked so pale.

On the way home, I drove past the airport as I do every day. But this time was different. There were so many planes on the tarmac I wondered how they could even land anymore. I tried to take a picture with my digital camera as I drove past but it didn't come out well. Later, I heard there was approximately 200 planes parked there and I wouldn't be surprised. I drove past the Salvation Army church and there were busloads of stranded travelers streaming in the doors. The radio announcers were pleading for people to help anyway they could, be it extra blankets and pillows, or to offer beds. Hotel rooms were fully booked and many people had to sleep on the floors of churches and school gymnasiums. I felt guilty that I couldn't help with extra room and I felt so bad for those people who were stuck.The worst of all was hearing these people were coming off planes diverted here and had no idea at the time what had happened. They had only been informed that they were not landing in whatever city they had been expecting and that they were in Vancouver. So most were only going on very limited knowledge and were in a strange city with no idea when they were leaving.

I heard from my friends in the States. They had some terrible stories to tell. Ian, in NY could smell the fires burning from the WTC. J's brother in NY had fled the area close to WTC and found his friend walking down the road, dazed and splattered with blood from someone who had jumped. A friend was working on Capitol Hill and when it was targeted, they were told to get under their desks and stay there. Her daughter was at daycare on the floor below and she was forbidden to go to her. That decision still shocks me to this day, and I can't imagine how traumatic it must be to think you're about to die any moment and you are unable to get to your toddler when she's so close. Another friend actually saw the plane as it hit the Pentagon. He still goes for counseling for that as it brought his long-buried 'Nam dreams back to life.

The next morning, during my commute to work, I was late because the Armed Forces were on the highway by the airport spot checking the commuters. It scared me. I didn't want to have a world where I had to go through checkpoints just to go to work! That next day at work all we did was surf the 'net to find more stories about what was happening. We heard the stories of people trapped alive in the wreckage, of them calling on their cells and emailing. I still don't really know if those stories ended up being true or not but it fed that helpless feeling that all of us felt. I thought about my NY experiences. Of meeting these NY firemen when we were lost and them teasing us about being tourists...I found out later that particular station lost 3 men. I thought of all the firemen and policemen and thought about them being guys like my brothers. Good men, with families, just doing their job. Then I realized, with some horror, that one of my vendors I'd been talking to on September 10, was actually in the WTC. I only knew her first name and although I haven't seen her name as a victim, I do wonder if she made it out ok. I also thought about what it would have been like to be on those planes, and know that you were going to die and there was nothing you could do about it.

Another thing that haunts me from the newscasts are the sounds of the firemen's alarms as they lay motionless. That wee-ooo, wee-ooo sound. I knew instantly what it was and it made me cry inside. I phoned my fireman brother, whom I rarely spoke to, and told him how I felt.

On Friday of that week, the day was declared a National Day of Mourning. At work, we all left our desks and went outside where an American flag was raised in honour of our American coworkers and those that had lost their lives in the attack. They played the American national anthem and even though it was not our own, we felt a kinship with our southern neighbour.

Over the next few weeks, I did different things to process the events. Of course, I read every piece of news I got my hands on, I watched every show I could, I wrote a lot in my journal and I made a CD of a bunch of 9-1-1 tribute songs. I made them for my friends too. A friend from work got married a couple weeks later and it happened to be on the day we invaded Afghanistan. On that day, my friend's family was at the wedding from South Africa and they had no idea if they would be able to go back as the flights were still being delayed and cancelled left and right for security concerns.

My parents went on a cruise around this time too and they had a bomb scare on the boat in LA. There was a report of terrorists boarding a ship and it had to be checked out. My mom said they were all herded off the boat into a holding area of the docks in LA, while men with big guns stormed the ship. Thankfully, it turned out to be a false alarm.

As time went on, the rawness dissipated, but it has not been forgotten. I bought books telling stories of the survivors and those not so fortunate. I read lots of websites, some compelling, some just drivel but all showed different perspectives of what had happened. Yes, other countries experience terrorism on a much more frequent scale, but that doesn't make this any less tragic. The conspiracy theories kind of get to me too. Like the Pentagon friend SAW that plane and nothing is going to make me believe otherwise.

The world definitely did change that day. For not just the US, but for other countries too. It was big blow where people did not expect. And I don't believe for one minute that it couldn't happen again. The saddest part, though, is that it will happen in the least expected manner and at the least expected time. These theorists that try to predict really can't hold water. Anyone can create a scenario, and security can try to be tightened up, but when someone wants to do harm, it will happen and a way will be found.

A lot has been said about terrorists coming in from Canada and it makes me feel sad. There are terrible people who wish to do harm in every society, but they are not indicative of the general group. And besides, when we cross the border into the US, we go through American customs - not Canadian. So if there needs to be tightening up, maybe the US Customs should be looking in the mirror. I have noticed we are asked many more questions going through now than before, and I don't mind at all. Go ahead, ask away. And sure, I'll open my trunk for you if you ask. If that's what it takes, it's a small price to pay.

So when someone asks if I 'remember', well, yes, I do and I do so every day. I also remember what happened in Bali for the Australians, in Madrid on 3/11, in London 7/7 and India 7/11. This is a very scary world, and we need not get complacent or to let these tragedies fade into the distance of time.

Vancouver, British Columbia
A patriotic Canadian full of visions of a better Canada, random thoughts and a lot of hot air. Who am I? A struggling writer and photographer trapped in a corporate buyer's body. Steel shopping by day, and freeflowing prose by night. One day I hope to have the nights become my days, but am intimidated by the sheer amount of people who share my dream. So I read. A lot. I learn. A lot. I push myself. A lot. The world is a small place, and getting smaller every day. I'm proud to have friends in every corner of the earth, and abide by the old adage that there are no strangers, only friends we haven't met yet.
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