… I was walking up Leslie Terrace in Aberdeen, pushing the 3-year-old Dafter in her buggy, feeling the sun on my face. It had been three weeks since our son had left our home to go to residential school in Edinburgh, and we were all adjusting to a new phase in our lives. For those three weeks, Michael and I had been bathed in a sense of profound relief that our son was happy and in the perfect place to help him.
It was mid-afternoon, and I passed a man who was working on his car. The radio was on, and I heard something about the Pentagon being attacked. I stopped to listen, but the newscaster was very uncertain, saying things like “Unconfirmed reports are coming in…” I couldn’t quite believe what I’d heard, and went straight home to turn on the television. Like so many others the world over, I watched the videos of the twin towers being hit by airplanes just too unbelievable to process. I was concerned that the Dafter might be frightened, so I kept switching off. I was filled with a dreadful fear of what was going to unfold. When Michael came home from work, we watched the news and the Dafter commented, “The buildings fell down! The buildings fell down! People might be hurt! Are there people in the buildings?” We pretended to be calm and reassuring, and she moved on to other things as we went through our bedtime routine with her. We phoned the residential school to pass a message on to our son that his Granny, Grandad and Auntie were all fine and not to worry. The young staff member who answered seemed bemused by this message and said, “Yeah, okay, whatever!” I’m sure their hands were very full and they had had no time to watch any news reports.
Am I correct in remembering that it was a Tuesday? Over the next days we held our breath, wondering if this would be the beginning of another world war. While the Dafter was in morning nursery, I was able to attend a service under the beautiful stained glass window of the Oil Industry Chapel in the Kirk of St. Nicholas Uniting. As part of the short service we observed a silence. I thought it was amazing that the birds singing outside seemed to know nothing of what had happened. I will never forget that, without saying a word, the woman next to me turned towards me and we just held each other, crying. It didn’t matter who we were. We were united in our grief and horror.
Stories of heroism and forgiveness emerged as the days went on. We learned that people from all over the globe had lost their lives that day. The Times’ headline was “Good Will Prevail Over Evil” (13/09/01). On the Sunday (15/09/01), there was a powerful article by Ian McEwan in the Guardian, which I have never forgotten and indeed have kept. It was entitled “Only love and then oblivion. Love was all they had to set against their murderers.” He wrote about the many people who, knowing they were facing death, had used their last moments to phone and tell their families how much they loved them. The last paragraph reads: “The hijackers used fanatical certainty, misplaced religious faith, and dehumanising hatred to purge themselves of the human instinct for empathy. Among their crimes was a failure of the imagination. As for their victims in the planes and in the towers, in their terror they would not have felt it at the time, but those snatched and anguished assertions of love were their defiance.”
I do still believe that good will ultimately triumph over evil, and that sometimes taking the side of love is the strongest form of defiance. Although the past ten years have not been free of hatred and revenge by any means, at the same time many people scarred by the attacks have gone on to accomplish great acts of charity and have continued the message of choosing love.
Guideposts, a faith magazine in the States, has published an interesting series of videos by people who lost someone ten years ago today. They speak of receiving “afterlife messages” from those who died, and of the power of healing that forgiveness can bring. I hope that this anniversary will be a day when they can feel that love remains, unbroken.