20 years ago

It’s been all over the Detroit stations that we watch on a regular basis.

“Do you remember where you were 20 years ago?”

Of course, this is in reference to the attacks on the United States.

I absolutely remember where I was and what I was doing.

It was a Tuesday and I was at our computer professional learning centre setting up for a workshop later in the day. I’d gone straight there to do some work and then was heading out to visit a couple of schools before circling back to lead the workshop.

As per usual, I was working at the computer at the front of the room and had some radio channel streaming music over the internet. That’s one of the advantages of being alone.

Then, the phone rang just after 9 o’clock.

It was my secretary who often gave me orders since she managed everything in my work life anyway. So, it wasn’t unusual to get an order but this was somehow different.

Her: Turn on the television

Me: Why?

Her: Do it

Coverage was on every channel. The first plane had crashed into the World Trade Centre and, just as I turned the television on, I saw the second. She was watching at her desk at the same time and was on the phone talking to me. I’d like to say that a million things went through my mind but I can’t. As far as I can recall, my mind just went blank.

All I can remember was thinking that this was just like television news coverage and we were seeing a rerun of an event. Sadly, it wasn’t.

Bizarrely, it was a few minutes later that I realized I was sitting alone in a room watching television and holding a phone but not talking or listening. It was the same on her end. The rest of the day and the following events are a blur. I do recall that she offered and I accepted her suggestion to cancel the workshop and my school visits. We witnessed things live but messages spread like wildfire in schools and the last thing they needed was me showing up to talk or to drive and try to learn at a workshop.

Later that day at home, it was a time for the family to bond and my wife and I did what we thought was the best parenting. We left the news off and just allowed the kids to speak and get things off their chest.

As we know now, that was the day when air traffic was halted. The community of St. John’s stepped up although what happened there remains largely missing from the American recount of the events of the day.

We all know how other things have changed. Living near the border, it was very common to just cross the bridge to shop or see a Tigers/Lions game. All that was required was to prove your identity and typically a driver’s license was all that it took. This was to change and I ended up having to get a passport. The quick over and back was gone. It’s not rare to wait in line at Customs for considerable lengths of times, depending on the time of day. And, we all know that going on an airplane is a huge deal anymore.

These days, a web cam allows for us to look at the location, 20 years later. I have no doubts that there will be all kinds of news coverage and historical replays today to mark 20 years since the event. I’m fearful that it may spark even more prejudice.

Twenty years seems so long ago but I can still remember that phone call.

Where were you 20 years ago?

9 thoughts on “20 years ago

  1. Doug, this post makes me realize that I was wrong about how many years of teaching I’ve done. This is my 20th year. How did I mix this up? I remember because I was only part-time at the time, and I was getting ready to head to my afternoon position. I always like to go early. My mom called me from there school and said, “Turn on the news.” It totally stopped me in my tracks. I watched on the TV, moved to the radio as I drove, and arrived at the school to see many of the kids and staff gathered around a TV in the hallway watching some more. Not only was it devastating to witness this, but my family and I also began to think about my sister in the States. She lived incredibly close to a capital city. Would there be other terrorist attacks?

    A few weeks after this, my teaching position expanded at re-org, and I began teaching kindergarten at another school. I found out that one of the kindergarten teachers there — and someone who is now a good friend of mine — was devastated in a whole new way. Her best friend’s husband was the pilot of one of the planes. This pilot’s wife was a brand new mother (with a 10 month old baby at home). So devastating! Some moments in time, you’ll never forget.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. It was the second day of school for me. I was living in New Jersey – 2.5 hours south of Manhattan, 2.5 hours north of DC. It wasn’t unusual in our community for people to commute to NY for work. I didn’t know who in my class might have parents at the WTC that day. Our principal, thinking about how the WTC had been attacked just a few years earlier, made an announcement for us all to turn on our TV. Mine was on for the class for about 5 minutes, just as the second plane hit. I tried to get everyone to think about a math game instead. Our principal, meanwhile, was at the front door trying to convince parents they didn’t need to take their children home. Some listened. We lived near a military base that was a receiving area for all sorts of things and for about two weeks the only planes we saw were military cargo planes headed to and from there.
    After school that day I remember feeling like I needed supplies – just in case. I stopped at Costco & bought random items but all I remember is a case of water. Then I started trying to call people to let them know I was home (I had no family in New Jersey) but all the phone lines had either crashed, or I was greeted with a message to please leave the lines open for emergency personnel.

    I’d been to the WTC a few times, but have never been back. I knew too many people who had been trapped – not at the site but in a Manhattan because the bridges closed. By the time I moved here (July 2002) I wasn’t over the feeling of cities being vulnerable places.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I can’t imagine the traffic jams, Lisa. I’ve been to New York a few times and it’s so busy; closing the bridges would be a nightmare. On the news last night, they reminded us that the Ambassador Bridge to Detroit and the tunnel were both closed and the transport trucks going to the US on the 401 were backed up to Tilbury. I suspect your feelings about cities and their vulnerability remains true today.


  4. I was a university student at Western and was working in in my position as an off campus don (support first year students who chose not to live in residence). Someone came running into the office saying we had to come and see the news so we all went to the main student centre and saw the second tower fall live. A student standing near me collapsed screaming “my dad!” and I will never forget the spins of his voice.

    As someone who also grew up on the border with Michigan it changed forever how we visited the States and really made you consider the proximity.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for sharing your story, Elizabeth. The visitation to the States is interesting. Once just an extension of Canada, it really is a different nation as a result.


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