Sunday, September 11, 2011

"Did You Hear?"

We were in transit and arrived in London on 9/11/01. This is what I wrote the morning of 9/12...

It's a weird feeling being in a foreign country when tragedy strikes at home.
We had a lovely (if bumpy) flight over to Heathrow, arriving at noon, taking the bus in to our hotel. We met the manager of the hotel, who apologized for our bad experiences last time, told us he had left chocolates and a teddy bear for us in our room, gave us his name and told us where we could find him if we had problems. And we just had to wait till the room was ready.

While we were sitting there, some Americans came in and I overheard them saying something about a problem at the World Trade Center. But I wasn't sure what had happened.

When we got to our room, we turned on the TV and began to watch the horror unfolding. It just didn't seem possible. We watched the panic in the streets.

We heard the British news reports, which eventually became local. Tony Blair was coming back from a conference early to meet with his advisors. They had shut down the government buildings.

We needed American news. We found CNN.

Where did Ron work? Didn't remember. Did he work near the World Trade Center?

We watched for 2 hrs until time to meet Ellen and Rob for dinner.

We came downstairs and gave the key to the desk clerk. He smiled. In the background I could hear news reports.

We walked out onto the street, still in a daze. But this was London. People were going on about their business. I remember leaving my office after JFK was shot...the hush in the streets, everyone talking about it. None of that here.

We passed a news stand with two signs, one atop the other. The first said "Hundreds feared dead in NY Terror Attack" and the other said "Thousands feared dead in NY Terror Attack."

It was rush hour and the people passed by without noticing. Blaring headlines are nothing new in this country.

All around us were British accents. I strained desperately for an American. "Did you hear?" I had to ask.

Where were the Americans?

We rode the tube and an announcement came over the loudspeaker "If you are flying to the US or Canada, you must call your airline before you leave."

It was very warm in the tube and I remembered how hot this country keeps its indoors. I remembered the man who talked about helping someone whose skin had been burned off.

Brits carried newspapers, but nobody seemed to be reading them.

Where were the Americans? I needed to ask "Did you hear?"

We walked along the corridors and the heat made it difficult to breathe easily. What was it like to breathe in all that black smoke?

We finally met Ellen and Rob. Rob had a newspaper and we compared notes. They had heard when they were touring the Tower of London. We shared information.

A couple of older British women sat at the table next to us. One opened a paper. "Oh my goodness!" she exclaimed. She heard our accents.

"Did you hear...?" they asked.

We talked about the horror, the tragedy, and our fears. Ellen and Rob reported their problems in the tube because of an "incident" at the Embankment station which closed the tube temporarily.

We left dinner and made our way to a bus stop. By now there were more locals looking at headlines in horror and asking "Did you hear?"

We came to the cybercafe so I could let people know we were OK and so I could find out if Ron was OK (he is). All around me are Americans sending notes home to loved homes. "We're OK--are you?" the messages say.

Suddenly I don't want to be here. I want to be home. But there are no flights going to the US, so we will stay here and look for Americans and ask, "Did you hear...?"

It's a surreal day.


phonelady said...

Yes it was a surreal day and one that I will remember for the rest of my life . I tried to call my firefighter cousin's station in new york to find out what was going on and there was no answer . I figured they were on the job but not until I got the call from my uncle and two other cousins did i know we lost my brother and cousin .Today I am grateful that they are people who will give all to keep the USA safe . God bless us all and God bless the USA.

jon said...

It was very much the same when JFK was assassinated.
You remember exactly where you are and what you were doing.
Both were mind numbing experiences.
We didn't have a TV available where I worked but I had internet access at my work station.
Ironically it took so long to get onto sites like Yahoo and other american sites, that I went to BBC.

2 days I will never forget.