9/11 – Reflections from a Foreigner

I remember September 11th 2001 well.

I was at home that day and sat on the green couch in my living room, eyes glued to the TV. As I watched the constant news coverage, I saw both towers fall. Horrific scenes unfolding before my eyes.

I’m English and still lived in England at the time. My reaction was very similar to that of many people I knew over there:

  • Surprise at the scale of the attack: 4 planes, almost simultaneously hijacked and used as weapons.
  • Shock that such a world-famous landmark could be destroyed so quickly
  • Sadness at the number of people who died
  • Surprise that it was the first real terrorist attack in the US
  • … and that was it

spaghetti junction, Birmingham, UKYou see, I grew up knowing that terrorism was a part of life, there were fairly regular attacks in the UK during my childhood. Terrorism was all around me even when it wasn’t deadly.

  • My Dad worked in an office which shared a parking lot with an army recruitment office. It was not unusual for him to come home and tell us that he had been instructed to check under his car for bombs as there was a heightened terror alert.
  • Once, some terrorists claimed to have planted a bomb somewhere on the Spaghetti Junction in Birmingham (pictured). Any one of the supports on any one of the intertwining carriageways could have had a bomb attached to it so the whole junction was closed causing chaos on the roads. There was no bomb but it caused huge disruption anyway.
  • In 1999 I helped install the computer systems in a store in central Manchester. This store was built because its predecessor had been destroyed by a terrorist bomb some years previously.
  • My Grandma heard a commotion in her street one day and saw a SWAT team descend on one of her neighbor’s houses. Apparently the ‘nice’ young men who lived there were terrorists, making bombs in their back room.

The existence of terrorism was a normal part of life for me so, while the scale of the attacks on America on 9/11 were unprecedented and the method of attack was new, the idea of terrorists killing people was, unfortunately, not new to me at all.

I was reminded of this as I read the blog posts that many of my Internet friends wrote this year in remembrance of those who died that day. Most of them talked about how their lives had been changed forever by the horrific attacks on 9/11  and how America as a whole had been changed that day.

Nothing really changed for me on 9/11 though. To me it was just another terrorist attack, a big one, but just another all the same. Yet so much changed for millions of people that day. Terrorism had come to the shores of the USA for the first time. The bubble had been burst, a new reality was being created.

As I read those posts, it really came home to me  just how much we live in our own little bubbles thinking that everyone sees and experiences the world the way we do.

I wonder how many times every day I fail to understand someone else’s joy or pain because I forget that the way they see the world, their little bubble, is different than mine.

9/11 may not have changed much in my bubble, but this year’s remembrance of it has. I realize now how small my thinking is, how introverted and self-centered my understanding.

My hope is that, in this next year, I can learn to empathize with people more. I want to remember to stop and think about the world from the other person’s perspective before passing judgement and look with compassion at their viewpoint to be able to love them and understand them better than I can now.