Not so much Crochet today
That though the truth of it stands off as grosse
As black and white,
my eye will scarsely see it.
Scene II Act IV
How many other days in history are as etched in our consciousness as this one?
How many images can wrench your heart as much as that aircraft flying into the second tower?
I remember being at school in America and hearing, as an Australian, memories of the day President Kennedy was shot, the teachers reliving where they were on that day… and the day someone shot his little brother too. I remember playing on the front lawn at home in Canberra and heard on the car radio (parked in the driveway) that John Lennon had been shot. The Korean Airliner KAL 007 was shot-down whilst we were touring the States. The Challenger Shuttle exploded on tv before school one morning. The Princess of Wales was killed when I was in China. Do you remember that card simply saying “Mummy” on wreath on that coffin? and Mother Teresa died a week later – I was in Korea and it certainly made the papers there. A smoking smear in a field in Nias where 9 people had died, 7 of whom I knew, and one quite well, who I had given a hug to, the day before as he left, so excited to be going to help people struck by the Tsunami.
If you were asked to think of the most poignant images in history, the smoking towers would be there at the top of the list. Along with the image of the soldier, at the moment of his execution in Vietnam. The naked Vietnamese girl walking down the road, her arms out stretched, burning from napalm. Skeletal bodies from the concentration camps. The baby being carried from the ruins of the Oklahoma bombing by a fireman. The Hindenburg burning. Smoking ships in Pearl Harbour. Black horses lying in the road after an IRA bomb exploded. The pink suit climbing frantically into the back of an open car in Dallas. The Student facing down the tank in Tiananmen Square. The wall being pulled down chunk by chunk in Berlin.
September 11 for me: I was with my then fiancée (we broke up a year later), we were moving house the next day. The TV was the last thing to be packed as we all (moving men, the neighbours and the two of us) tried to make sense of what had happened. A little surreal, moving from one room to the next and having the same conversation with a different person. The fatality count, the initial estimates and the final numbers. The replaying of the planes going into the buildings. And then there was another question: for the two of us, both officers in two separate Defence Forces, what it meant next. For me, I deployed three weeks later, for five months patrolling in the Northern Arabian Gulf. We sailed into the Straits of Hormuz, tasked to prevent oil being smuggled from Iraq, maintaining sanctions. Wondering what would come next: Good Intentions that slide into chaos like Vietnam? Alongside in Bahrain, we watched Tomahawks being loaded onto Ticonderoga class cruisers. Noting the open hatch doors and missile blast marks on the fo’c’stle on the ships as they came in. Anything that floated and came near us was cause for suspicion, USS COLE still firmly in our minds. That was the Christmas, as part of a group effort, I decorated a tree at the base – Little America, explaining to the US Navy Morale officers, that Yes, we celebrate Christmas in Australia too. Not quite sure what they thought we had! And the same Christmas, the bomb dog helped himself to my ice cream as I passed through the check point.
Six years. 2190 days. The Greek Olympics has come and gone, Beijing is next year. Another shuttle has been lost during a mission. More people have died around the world, in earthquakes and in floods and in bombings. We have recognized that our environment is being affected by the way we live our lives and efforts are being made to slow down those changes, hopefully before it is too late. The same world that can mourn deaths in Iraq, can celebrate the birth of a Polar bear cub in Berlin.
Today, the names of those who died, in the towers, at the Pentagon, on the four aircraft; especially that fourth plane, where the passengers acted to try and prevent the plane from hitting another target; are read out. I hope people when they stop and remember, think not just those who died, but everything that we have achieved since that day, as citizens of our respective nations, who have faced these global challenges as they impacted in our own lives, how that every time we thought we have reached our limits, that we should look around and realize that it’s only training for what comes next.
To those who lost family members and friends on September 11, 2001, history will not let them be forgotten. Every achievement that we make, have made, and every goal we reach for, is to remember them.