I post this every year as a reminder to myself of the bravery and courage I witnessed in New York 17 years ago. My comments on the email today:
I wrote this email home to friends and loved ones on the evening of September 11, 2001. Four days previously I had moved to Manhattan 4 days to live and study at Columbia Business School.
9/11 forever changed my views on America, American people and the American economy. I watched and learnt from their incredible ability to rebound from incredible adversity.
My comments on the email 5 years ago, during the GFC:
So as people express doubts on America’s ability to rebound from the GFC, I find I do not share them. I have no doubt that China will one day overtake America, but I doubt very much whether it will be in my lifetime.
I hope you take something positive from my email – I wrote it at a time that I felt very alone and scared and it was my way to reach out to distant friends. I struggle to express myself better today than I did 10 years ago on that fateful day.
My email home on 9/11, 2001
Friends (where so ever you may be),
It’s obviously a very trying time in New York right now. Peoples’ feelings as they wander the streets are palpable – the bewilderment, the shock, the anger, the uncertainty. Yet through it all you cannot help but feel an overwhelming sense of community, a sense of pulling together like I have never experienced anywhere.
Through the day I felt like I was living in a movie, only it was CNN I was watching, unfortunately not the movie channel. I arrived early at school and watched the live pictures on the TV as the second tower was hit and collapsed and you know the rest. With the air force jets circling the island afterwards it seemed so surreal (they still thunderously circle even now, late at night).
For me, although the events unfolded live on what was otherwise a gorgeous day, it still seemed as though I could be watching it on TV in Sydney or London, even though it was only miles away it seemed so distant and remote.
As we sat around I could tell that those around me were deeply affected and their sense of confusion was self evident. I did my best to empathise with their grief but found it difficult to comprehend what actually had happened. Their minds were miles away, themselves ticking off and trying to contact loved ones that may have been in the vicinity of the blast. And in turn their families and loved ones were calling them, scared that each of them may have been in the vicinity instead of at school.
It was a day spent communicating largely by email, as the phone system seemed to groan and give up under the excessive strain of millions calling in worry. I fear that it will only be tomorrow when people don’t show up that the shocking extent of carnage affecting the school (on the narrower scale) and the city (on the broader) will be truly known. Sadly tomorrow fills me with dread.
I found it difficult to empathise until I walked home. As I approached my doorstep there was a woman who had obviously lost someone sobbing uncontrollably in a man’s arms. I stopped and was overwhelmed by the sense of loss – this woman had turned it for me from a remote event to a tragedy on a much more human and personal level.
Thousands have died but my sense of grief was directed more to those that remain. She was the first of many that I have come across in the streets. For the many thousands that died there are many more families, brothers, sisters, partners and loved ones.
And then there are the people who came to help, the firemen and police who paid the ultimate price simply because they cared. For the first time in years I entered a church and sat, cried and prayed to god for these people and for their families. That perhaps somehow he could alleviate a little of the pain and suffering that they must be going through. This little black sheep even needed a catholic church (St John the Divine Cathedral down the road from school) for the familiarity and comfort it seemed to provide. In the church there were people sobbing uncontrollably, grief seems dispersed throughout the city and has affected all in some way.
No one knows what to do, no one knows what to say. There is no outlet for hatred as the evil perpetrators hide behind a veil of secrecy and deceit. My estimation of Americans has risen so incredibly over this day. I walked to one hospital then another then another then another in an attempt to give blood. In total 60 or 70 blocks – at every hospital there was a huge crowd of people, all quietly queuing, all intent on somehow helping. People are spontaneously and en masse volunteering for everything, there are rosters to do so everywhere. The sense of community is so incredibly strong – I have never seen anything like it in any country I have visited – I pity the perpetrators when that same strong sense of unified community is turned against them. America is unified, right now in grief but I know that that will change to anger then to resolve and finally to action.
I know you have all seen the footage and probably know more than I do regarding what is going on. But what you can’t see is the community spirit in the face of unbelievable adversity. I find myself willingly caught up in it, these are good people doing extraordinary things in extraordinary times.
I’m not religious by anyone’s measure but I ask you if you get a spare chance, say a prayer in your own way and in your own words for these people – the dead, the wounded, the emergency people and especially the families and loved ones left behind. And tell your loved ones that you love them. May god grant rest and peace to those souls departed and who will sadly never come home where they belong and may he hold the survivors and grieving loved ones tenderly in the palm of his hand.
Love youse all,