1000 WORDS ON…SEPTEMBER 11, 2001
[This chapter begins with the lyrics to the song/prayer "In Memoriam 091101" which I have already posted a couple of times]
I had my son CJ with me for the day at the house in Clondalkin; the arrangement was that I mind him there for the day, dropping over to St Pauls School in Greenhills to collect my daughter RA for 2:40pm, and wait in the house until MyX got home from work around 6.
I was a Sky News addict at this stage, in an effort to be somewhat au fait with current affairs. Shortly after 2pm that day, I switched on to catch the headlines, and dominating the screen was a picture of the twin towers in New York with smoke billowing out of one of the buildings. It was clear that there had been a terrible accident of some kind, so naturally I stayed watching to find out what had happened.
Around ten past the hour, I witnessed another plane hit the second tower live, and was naturally horrified by the realization that this could be no accident.
Before I knew what was going on, it was after two-thirty, and I was going to be late to collect RA. I put CJ into the car and set off, frantically scouring the radio for reports on what was going on; RTE was still on its regular programming, and I had to rely on the crackly medium wave reception of BBC5 Live for updates.
When I reached the school and stood at the gates waiting for my daughter to emerge, I was amazed that nobody around me seemed to know what was happening. All the mothers were gathered in their little huddles laughing and joking and no doubt singing the praises of their little angels like they always did. I felt like screaming “Haven’t any of you heard the news? America is under attack as we speak!” but wisely thought better of it.
With that I whisked RA home and sat glued to the television for the rest of the afternoon. I had to constantly shout at the kids to keep things down as I listened for new information. The newsreaders were understandably shocked as events unfolded; in fact, as news reports were coming in of other planes going missing, nobody could really consider themselves safe. At one point my heart was in my mouth as the Sky News director cut from a picture of a plane in the sky to one of the White House.
I tried to explain the scale of what was happening to my children. I was telling them how one day they would be able to tell people exactly where they were and what they were doing; this was to be my generation’s JFK assassination. But to be honest the events of that day were so bizarre that explanations were extremely difficult.
At one point the news readers suggested there were reports that the Palestinians were involved, but this was refuted a few minutes later. I had visions of Yasser Arafat lunging across the room to get to his “bat-phone” and assure the international community it wasn’t him! I also imagined IRA members saying; “Fuck, even WE could never do THAT!!!” Eventually we were led to believe it was a sect of Islam called the Taliban that were responsible, though actually it was that their regime in Afghanistan was providing cover for Osama Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda terrorist network.
As one of Sky News’ hastily assembled experts told us how strong the buildings were and how long it should take for them to collapse, both towers fell within about ten minutes of each other. It was here that the true horror of what was happening was made clear, as people jumped from the buildings before they came down. What a position for any human to be confronted with for a split second; the one in a million chance of surviving the fall, against the zero in a million chance of remaining in the inferno behind them.
So what could I take from all of this? Does a large amount of people go to the immense trouble and meticulous effort to organize such an atrocity purely because they are part of George Bush’s “Axis of Evil”? Or was it a case of the fleas ganging up to bite the dog in a tender spot to get it to stop scratching? At the risk of being daubed a conspiracy theorist, I fear we will never know the real answers. One thing was certain; this was a day that would influence the world for decades to come.
We stood in line for hours at the American Embassy in Ballsbridge a few days later to sign the Book of Condolence. As Sandra and I waited, a girl in her early twenties took out a flute and played The Star Spangled Banner. I felt she was missing the point of the whole occasion; for me, it was a day when national identities did not matter, when in fact the destructive consequences of such jingoism were finally demonstrated to the so-called civilized world.
We wish to send our heart felt condolences to those people in New York and all over America. Our thoughts are always with you. We also hope that you the American people can find it in your hearts to forgive those who caused this pain without bringing needless sorrow to others.
The Pagano Family (from RTE’s online Book of Condolence)
© JL Pagano 2004
NEXT, #45 – 1000 WORDS ON…MY SELF-ESTEEM