September 11th. What can be said a decade later that hasn’t been said already? What can I say that hasn’t been said before?
Do I remember when I heard the news? Of course. I was a final year medical student, ducking into the doctors’ mess to grab a cup of tea in Bath. I saw faces staring at the television as smoke billowed from a Hollywood set and thought how unusual it was for that kind of film to be shown at that time of day.
I pushed the lever forward to pour scalding water into my polystyrene cup and thought how unusual it was for so many people to be in here watching the television.
I scooped the teabag out and then I can’t remember what happened next.
Bath is a small, beautiful town in the west of England, with sweeping Georgian architecture, rolling hills and Roman ruins. It is quiet and green and until that day, it expressed its dates as 11th September, not September 11th.
That was one small thing to change.
I can’t remember what I was supposed to be doing that afternoon. Helping the house officer take blood for convoluted endocrine tests. Taking a history for the next day’s ward round. Revising for finals, not all that far away.
What I do remember was what I did.
I watched and there was nothing I could do. Smoke billowed. Cameras covered the silhouettes of bodies spinning downwards through the sky. Dust fell and firemen marched forth.
Then the buildings fell.
Despite being surrounded by the fields of rural England, I had family in that grey smoke. People I loved. People I couldn’t reach. People I couldn’t help. And, of course, I wasn’t the only one.
The UK’s National Health Service, in fact most of the UK, is a cosmopolitan place. People know people. Everywhere.
One of our medical students was there. Friends had colleagues there. Colleagues had friends there.
That attack was an attack against the world.
I don’t think that I have ever been as afraid as I was that day, albeit 4000 miles from what would come to be Ground Zero and, as it turns out, protected from the worst of the grief.
I knew New York well. I sensed the threat to London.
So, ten years on, what more is there to say, do think or feel?
No doubt, you’ll have read article after article in the run up to this “anniversary.”
But my mind jumps back to a comment someone left on an article I wrote about Hiroshima.
Sadly, 911 is not unique. It is not the first time that scores of lives have been lost, that the evil actions of a few have devastated the lives of many, and that many of us have ended up feeling frightened and seeking revenge.
Years later, the cost of revenge becomes easier to see.
Some places have war crime museums, independence statues of hatred, markers of bloody uprisings and celebrations of death. Some cultures seek to right wrongs that are 800, or even 1000, years old and cling to these events to justify murder, theft and torture.
Other places have different approaches.
Hiroshima has a Memorial to Peace. A flame burns constantly to remind people about the danger of conflict. It invites the citizens of the world to grieve over the lives lost here and to hope for a better future, regardless of race, colour or creed.
Hiroshima has recovered well.
Some places say that it is right to seek justice, but dangerous to seek revenge. Revenge, like resentment, they say, is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die (Nelson Mandela.)
So how does that relate to September 11th?
It is, and should be, a sad day, even though the artificial ten year mark changes nothing. It should also be a chance to express sorrow, to value the strength of the international community, and to reassure frightened people today that we are capable of differentiating between Islam and terrorism, despite what the headlines may say.
That’s what I would like to add on this ten year anniversary.
And, yes. I very much hope that you’ve heard it all before.
What do you think?