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Remembering on the Tenth Anniversary of 9/11

I was living in London in the fall of 2001. I had recently finished a graduate program in Communications at Goldsmith’s College and I was working part-time in the customer service department at IKEA Brent Park. My plan was to move back Stateside in October and figure out if my new degree would be good for something in the real world.
I was working a standard 9-to-5 shift on September 11. Just like any other Tuesday, I sat in the customer service office and called angry IKEA customers and tried to charm them with my American accent. It was around 3:00 PM local time that people began to talk.
Did you hear what happened in America?  Planes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York, and they’re saying it’s not an accident.
The customer service office was an isolated place in the bowels of this massive furniture store.  We had no internet connection, but someone found a portable radio in the back of a closet and we tuned into the BBC. Huddled around the tiny speakers, we waited for real information to emerge from the confusion.
Terrorists hijacked planes and intentionally crashed them into buildings.  More hijacked planes are in the air.  The World Trade Center buildings are on fire.  One building has collapsed.  Both buildings have collapsed.
I listened to the radio for about an hour, trying to construct the images in my mind and failing completely. I understood the words “the buildings have collapsed,” but they were just words.  How do you imagine such a thing? Like, collapsed?
I tried to go back to work; I may have even called a customer and left them a voicemail about their damaged furniture. What else was I supposed to do?
When we got home from work, we turned on the television, and we began to see the images.  There it was, the horror unfolding, just…
People say all the time, I can’t believe my eyes. But this was the one moment in my life when I literally could not believe my eyes. A plane flew into the side of a building and then was gone in a puff, nothing coming out the other side. Black smoke and flames poured out of the open wounds. Dots with arms and legs jumped from windows. The towers fell – they didn’t topple, they fell straight down, like the bottom block had been yanked away. People ran through the streets with clouds of gray death at their heels. Ash settled like snow. The sudden realization that, yes, America was being attacked.
Honestly, it sucks to write about. Words are fully insufficient here. I haven’t watched video footage of that day in many years, but simply trying to remember back is really tough, let alone attempting to describe things in a way that works or makes sense.
My personal story is nothing special or unique.  I knew one person who died, but many people knew many more. Other stories from that day are filled with infinitely more personal suffering and anguish. But even for me, remembering that day and the days that followed can still bring up emotions the way nothing else can.
Much has changed in the last decade.  In the days and weeks following those attacks, we built a picture of what happened. We did our best to make sense of who was responsible, why they did it, and how it was accomplished.  We learned the stories of bravery, courage, and loss that came out of the tragedy. We went to war; we’re still at war.  Americans have many different views and opinions and we’ve come to grips with the meaning of September 11, 2001 in many different ways.
America is a desensitized society, they say.  We consume violent media — movies, news, video games — with gleeful abandon.  We are overrun with information, steaming into our smartphones and pouring through our high-speed connections. We can handle just about anything.
But there remains something truly unbelievable, something actually and honestly incomprehensible, about what we saw that day. Those images do not lose their power to shock and unsettle.  Ten years ago. I still don’t believe it and I don’t think I ever will.

2 responses to “Remembering on the Tenth Anniversary of 9/11”

  1. llxt llxt says:

    Owen–again–thanks for posting/writing this. I was in my Allston apartment, watched the towers fell on TV, then went to school. There was a girl in my class whose brother was in the army or something, and she was upset about him leaving. I remember thinking, "then why the hell are you sitting in this class with us?" Maybe it was because she couldn't believe it, none of us could…

    • Owen Owen says:

      Thanks for reading! It was much harder to write about than I anticipated, actually. All these years later, and it's still beyond reality to me.

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