After a busy day of work today, with a client meeting in Birmingham and plenty of work to do on the train it wasn't until just before as my train was pulling into Euston station a little after 5:00PM today that I glanced at the newspaper and was reminded what todays date was. Or rather, what today's date meant.
Eight years ago, working for an American owned Internet startup in South Kensington, my colleague got a call from her 19 year old son who had been listening to the radio. Something had happened at the World Trade Center. We rushed to our computers to find out more. The Internet was slow, as apparently the entire Western world was doing the same thing. I managed to get BBC news' live feed up just in time to watch the second plane hit the tower.
Frantic calls home to my friends and family weren't working as the phone lines too were overstretched. Hotmail's Instant Messanger became my lifeline, checking in with everyone I could think of. When the third plan hit the Pentagon I was relieved to already have talked to my cousin - who at the time lived just a few blocks from there. And then the fourth plane, which crashed in rural Pennsylvania crashed, raising a lot more questions again - had it, too, been intended for Washington?
Bizarrely, as it was all happening a woman arrived at the office for a planned meeting to talk about our international product launch that was scheduled to take place at a convention in California the next month. My boss and I took the meeting, but both she and we were distracted and unfocussed. I'm sure they were both having the same realisation I was - that this may not matter. Would we be able to travel to the States in a month's time? Were we at war? If so, with who? Were more attacks coming? If so... why?
I got back to my desk just a few minutes before the second tower collapsed. Again, we were all frantically hitting the reset button to watch.
By this point they were announcing that all flights in the US were grounded, and all flights to and from the US were cancelled. My boss told us all to go home - no one was getting any work done - and I got on a Piccadilly line train filled with wide eyed Heathrow refugees heading back into central London. One of the people in my car was an airline pilot with an American Airlines uniform on - someone asked him a question about how security would cope with a crisis like this, and that seemed to have opened the floodgates, as I remember how we all instinctively huddled around and peppered him with questions. I think we just needed to talk to someone in some sort of authority. Bless him, he was very patient and calm.
We'll always remember that day - each of us with our own story to tell. It felt like the world was coming to an end.
It wasn't. 8 years later, we're still here, we're busy with our jobs, our families, we're trying to pass health care reform (or block it), we're trying to rebuild our economy, we've got a new set of problems and a new President to (hopefully) try and solve some of them.
We'll never forget, but our victory is in this:
Life goes on.
Love and hugs to all the 9/11 families today.