Like many people, I remember exactly where I was when the planes flew into the World Trade Center. A new reporter at the Minto Express in Palmerston and Harriston, Ontario, it was my first job since moving back to Canada from the UK. I’d been employed there exactly six months and two weeks.
While I worked in the office, I listened to CBC on the radio. The incident first reported as a news item at the top of the hour, and then, as the second jet flew into the towers, it became a full-blown breaking news story that pre-empted all regular programming. Until that second jet flew into the towers, I thought it was just a pilot error, and the plane just a little private plane that wouldn’t cause that much damage.
“Can you believe a plane flew into the World Trade Center?” I asked the salesperson from the Listowel paper, who split her time selling ads for both newspapers. She shrugged, turned on her heel and walked out the door.
As the story unfolded, I struggled to put words to the fear and grief I felt. I knew I had to find a local angle for the paper, but as I fought with the muddled emotions and thoughts, and attempted to make sense of them by talking with my colleague, I needed to get out of the office. I went to my car outside in the parking lot, got in, turned on the radio and just listened. And soon, wrenching sobs came in waves. Then no more tears. Spent, I re-entered the office and called my mom.
“It reminds me of how we felt when Pearl Harbour was bombed,” she told me. I didn’t doubt her. I just didn’t know what to do with that information. I just didn’t know what to do. I did write a poem, a cry to something bigger than I, a visceral response to mass loss of life, and to the hatred that precipitated it, and that would come after.
Eighteen years on, we have almost reached a generation past that defining event. I think about it less on this day every year. Memories fade; they're replaced by new ones. I know much more about the world now, and the way I move through it. But I still -- we all still -- have many lessons to learn.
Radio broadcasting special reports
God, have mercy on us.
Death, fear, horror;
Outside here, people laughing,
Everyday decisions made
By ordinary people;
Two looking at houses for sale.
On the corner, children play
On lunch from the high school.
They are only children.
God have mercy on us.
The church bells ring
And the sun shines.
Airports close, people die.
Jumping from towers to save themselves.
Hearts of darkness
Lord, have mercy on us.
God, have mercy on us.
Spirit, have mercy on us
Father, have mercy on our souls.
September 11, 2001