ON the eleventh anniversary of 9/11, former New Yorker Monique Edwards looks back on the day that changed her country forever.
Eleven years ago on September 11, I was in my sophomore year of high school at New Paltz Central HS in New York. New Paltz is a peaceful and serene little village located about 130 km north of New York City, surrounded by beautiful hills and valleys, and streets filled with organic eateries and vintage shops.
This particular autumn day was no different than any other day at high school. As always, it consisted of me forcing myself up from bed and into my mom’s car, being dropped off at the front of school and dragging my body ever so slowly through large, squeaky front doors and into the first morning class.
During second period, which was a writing class, we were half-way through reading the short story “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner when our teacher was suddenly called out of the classroom.
A couple minutes later, he returned saying, “Okay, let’s get back to it!”, before racing through the text at an incomprehensible speed, all the words blurring into one garbled mess. By the time he finished reading, he was out of breath and his face was red and set in a nervous grimace.
We stared at him, wide-eyed and confused – he was known to be the happiest teacher in the school, anything short of a smile gave us cause for concern.
“Okay, guys. Something has happened in New York City. We don’t know everything yet, but it looks like there was a plane crash,” he said.
But we could pick up on a sense of uncertainty in his carefully chosen words.
After this, the whole school day was flooded with rumours about the “crash”, including the possibility of a bomb on the plane or that the pilot lost control. No television sets were on for us to see for ourselves. And there didn’t seem to be any news updates circulating to quiet our imaginations.
It was only until I got home and joined my family in front of the television that I saw the images of what had actually occurred: two planes flying into the World Trade Center towers, the towers crumbling into smoke, rubble flying everywhere, people stumbling, running for cover amidst an engulfing black cloud of smoke and dust.
The first reaction a lot of us felt was – this can’t be real. Images coming through from news channels and people’s mobile phones looked like something out of a horror movie. It was a horror movie.
Reports eventually started to come through with updated and more detailed information. Hijackers associated with the al-Qaeda terrorist network had been involved. And another plane had flown into the Pentagon, while another crashed in Pennsylvania.
Looking back on the past 11 years, I have mixed emotions about that day.
I think of New York, a place I called home for so many years.
I think of all the families and friends who lost loved ones that day, I think of the shock of seeing the planes fly into the towers, the people jumping from the towering infernos down to the streets below.
I think about the US-led military occupations throughout the Middle East that followed this tragedy, in which so many families, civilians, soldiers, children and countless others have faced an unprecedented amount of loss and suffering.
Today is a day of remembrance for all of those who have lost their lives. And a reflection on the need to look forward and determinedly towards a future of peace.