Thoughts on the Eleventh of September

Today being the three year anniversary of the WTC attacks, I feel that perhaps I should share my perspective on the event. I’m sure millions in the blogosphere are doing so, or have already done. I think, though, I can offer a somewhat different perspective from most (americans, at least).

Nothing spectacular happened to me on 11 September 2001. Let me clarify that. At the time, I was living in a town in the bush of Australia, and there is a 16-18 hour time difference between Victoria and my hometown of Salt Lake City (it changes with daylight savings). Therefore, most of my 11 Sept was your 10 Sept. However, when I woke on the morning of 12 September 2001 to a ringing phone, things changed.

A nice old lady in my area (whose name escapes me now) had phoned us, knowing that we were american. She said, somewhat cryptically, that someone had stolen some jets and that one had crashed into New York. From her description, it sounded like some nut job at a military base had jumped into a fighter jet (what I picture when I hear the word “jet”) and crashed into something in New York. It sounded odd, and a bit scary, but it didn’t seem like something you call others about, in a town halfway around the world, at six in the morning. My roommate hung up the phone and we just sat for a while, confused. What was she talking about? We had both assumed it was some small fighter jet, and that it had crashed somewhere in New York state (Australians have a thing about mixing up some states and cities… several I knew thought California was a city).

A few minutes later, our good friends, the Rechter family, phoned us. Having been to the states several times, and perhaps being a bit more lucid than our elderly friend, Stephen told us that a passenger plane had been hijacked, and flown into the WTC.

“Wait… what? Someone flew a 747 into a skyscraper? How? That doesn’t happen!” I thought aloud. A few minutes later, we learned that another plane had hit the building, and that the World Trade Center had collapsed. I can’t begin to describe the confusion, but I don’t believe I need to. I know we all felt that feeling that day.

An hour or so later, after sitting by the phone, we were informed of the Pentagon being hit and of the flight that had crashed premature of its target in D.C. We didn’t own a television, so all we knew about what was going on was what we heard from concerned neighbors and friends. We considered going over to a friend’s home to watch the news proceedings, but we received a phone call from our headquarters in Melbourne: try to stay away from public places, and any “American” shops (McDonald’s, Subway, etc). Generally, try not to travel or be conspicuous. As an american, and especially as one in an almost iconic american role, they said it was probably best to keep out of plain site. Looking back at that advice, I can see the rational and fear that produced it, but also knowing the wonderful people of my town and Australia, I know that I was in perhaps the safest place I could have been. The people were amazing. Their heartfelt condolences and love were almost nonstop upon learning I was an american.

I finally saw the horrific footage of the event that day at a market. They had set up televisions on the end of each aisle, playing the news broadcasts. I honestly wish I hadn’t seen the footage: that image is burned into my mind as perhaps the most horrible thing I’ve ever seen.

I want to share one bit of wisdom that I think many americans don’t realize about this event, or perhaps more appropriately, about their world neighbors. Australians, from my experience, feel more akin to americans than they do to their british forbearers. I doubt that many in the states realize how much love the rest of the world poured out at that time. I felt it, as an american living abroad. And sadly, that true compassion and concern that the people of the world have shown has been somewhat been given a cold shoulder. Now, three years later, many countries that had opened their hearts to us now would rather not be associated with us at all. Why? Well, I’m sure some would give all sorts of explanations about countries being in cahoots with “terror” (now less a description of a state of mind and more a word for some intangible opponent), or that “those insert a people with a language other than english are just assholes!”

In reality, in my humble opinion, I believe we have turned away from them. There was an opportunity for vast world unity, love and understanding, and instead, we have become a society that feeds on fear. We have color-coded charts to tell us how afraid to be that day. We call our once good international friends traitors and we shun them. We fear and conspire against people in our towns because their skin is the wrong color, their name isn’t anglicized, or they pray the “wrong way” and call God by a different name. We give up the rights and civil liberties of our neighbors and selves in order to feel protected from everyone else around us.

This is insanity. This isn’t the country I was born, raised in and that I loved. It is as though I left the states in one form, and when I returned, it was some place entirely different. Now, know that I would never say that I support the people that committed this awful deed. They conspired with hearts of purest evil. But should the acts of a group of extremists cause us to hate and fear everyone on this wonderful planet that is different from us? Of course not. But as I look, as I listen, as I am surrounded by the everyday occurrences in my homeland, I wonder what has become of us? I know, somewhere in our hearts, we are still the same great nation. We still care about others in this world not getting a fair shake. We are still a nation of love… but I wonder if we even realize that our fear is destroying our love. Our love is the only thing that can help us triumph over these confusing and trying times.