Two numbers. No words. No explanation needed. A day those of us lived through can never forget. Events that don’t need to be described once you say “9/11”.
It is hard to imagine writing a daily blog and not pausing for thought on a day as significant as this and reflecting in some way on the events of September 11th 2001, sixteen years ago today.
I was working for Accenture in the north east – living in a flat there all week on The Quayside in Newcastle. It was long before the days of social media and long before wi-fi – I was connected to the my emails and the internet through a dial-up connection – plugging a phone line into the phone socket. Even thinking back now it seems bizarre. I was in a meeting in the atrium of the client’s offices – the Inland Revenue, AKA HMRC – when I received a text. This is the day before emails on phones or blackberries. “Put Sky News on now!”. It came from a close friend – someone I knew through politics who had a good eye for what the important and the urgent and so wouldn’t send such a message without good cause.
I pretended to go to the toilet and headed up to my desk to see what was going on. First Tower hit. Clearly a large plane. Speculation it was terrorism. I headed back to the meeting and announced the news – everyone rushed to come and see and so started a news marathon. Glued to TV, internet and radio for the rest of the day. I sat on the sofa in my flat for hours without moving – realising at one point that Liverpool were playing in the Champions league – the next night’s games were postponed but it was deemed too late to stop the match going ahead – Boavista home if I remember right – our first European Cup game at Anfield since 1985.
My overriding feeling during that day was one of total trepidation, fear – it felt like one hammer blow after another; one further piece of awful news; one more twist; one more knife to the heart; what is going to happen next; I’m not sure I can watch; I’m not sure what to do but sit here and occasionally cry. The day felt like one endless day of bad news. That’s because it was. The worse day for news anyone of my age can have known; the most gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, soul-searching day. I found it hard to reconcile my faith with what had happened; how could something so bad, so hideously bad, have happened. I found it all hard to believe and yet – in all honesty – as someone who gorges on news and politics, leadership and communication, it was gripping, fascinating stuff. The ultimate test of those in power and how they could respond. It was truly a day that changed lives all over the world.
As I look back today, sixteen years on, I am still left with the images of the day that I will take to my grave; the footage of the dust covering the screen and the ground as the first tower collapsed; the pictures of firemen going into the towers, many of whom never came out; the footage of President Bush throughout that day and in the aftermath going through every emotion possible, caught in the hot seat on the hottest of days; colleagues at Accenture crying at their desks when they realised that some of the fallen were members of their work family; the people carrying photos of their loved ones around asking if anyone had seen them; those who jumped from the towers to escape the hell-like inferno.
In a way, thinking back today, it feels like yesterday and yet it also feels like a distant country. A time long gone. An analogue age. So much has happened since in our world, much of it emanating from the events of that day. The day when clear September skies were darkened by acts of unbelievable wickedness and unspeakable suffering. That was 9/11. September 11th, 2001. The day that needs no explanation but needs never to be forgotten.
Photos taken from George W Bush’s book, “Decision Points”