Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9/11 – An Immigrant’s Experience

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Today, I would honor those that fell on 9/11 by sharing my memories of that time with you, my friends and family.

I think everyone has 9/11 burned into their memory; like Pearl Harbor was for our Grandparents. But like so many experiences in life, many of us weren’t actually there, so we remember through news reports, pictures, and of course share grief for the fallen. For me, this tragedy is a bit more vivid. Although I wasn’t at ground zero in New York, I was quite close to the Pentagon, having just moved eleven months earlier from Ottawa to Washington D.C., where I had a new job.

At 9:30 am, on September 11’th, 2001, I was at home, getting a late start to the day and catching up on CNN while I had my coffee and got ready for my commute into the office outside the beltway. That’s when the unthinkable began to unfold live on TV, as my wife and I watched, horrified; one plane hit the Pentagon, which was just a short drive from our house.

I stayed home that day and the following, but on the third day following 9/11 I had to drive into the office.

There was not a single plane in the sky.

That may not seem dramatic, but near Dulles airport, there is a constant flurry of airplanes coming in and leaving the airport. To see the sky empty was like watching some post apocalyptic movie, but I was there. Highway 66 was my main route to work, and it was nearly empty, and like the sky around Dulles, highway 66 is never empty….not even in the middle of the night. As I approached an overpass there was a tattered American flag hanging down from the railing above me, defiant, shouting, “We Are Still Here!” It felt good to see that.

Everyone at my office was on edge as you might expect, but we had a business to run and so, got on to our tasks at hand. Three of us were sitting in a large conference room, with one wall being glass, a window from ceiling to floor. As we sat in the conference room and spoke to colleagues just across the river from Ground Zero in New Jersey, I saw something massive flying toward the window out of the corner of my eye. Instinctively I dove under the table, waiting for the worst to happen. It was only a crane. There was construction going on at the building next door.

I had just been to London a few months before 9/11, and so could not donate blood (some restriction where you have to be back in country a certain length of time), but my wife and I wanted to do something; our new home had just been attacked and we felt helpless. She was a quilter, and so decided to make, and raffle off an American Flag Quilt – the proceeds were to be donated to a fund for the victim’s families. She stayed awake 72 hours to make it, and when it was done, it was large enough to cover an entire King size bed. We held the raffle and made hundreds of dollars for the victim’s fund. Ironically, our next door neighbor Pam, also Mayor, and a friend of my wife, won the quilt. I was very proud of my wife, it may not have made a huge impact on the victim’s fund, but it’s the combined momentum of countless little acts like this that change history. The newspaper thought so too, and featured her in a story the following week.

A couple of weeks after 9/11 I took the train up to New Jersey for a series of meetings, and would be there for the week. When I looked over across the river to New York City, the smoke billowed from Ground Zero, like a surrogate for the fallen trade towers, marking their place. I worked in New Jersey Monday to Friday for a couple of months, and the smoke never seemed to abate. I couldn’t fathom how that could be. But there it was.

After 9/11 we also went through the Anthrax scare, which affected our mail depot, and then the following year the Beltway Sniper, who killed people at gas stations we frequented. It was definitely a traumatic first couple of years in America for us as new immigrants, but we loved her none the less for it.

Our family moved back to Canada last year, but we cherished every day of the ten years we spent living there; today I remember the fallen, their families, friends, and the country I called home.

I remember.

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