On September 11, 2001, I celebrated my 36th birthday. Here I am with Jason and the kids on the back deck of my parents’ house at the end of that memorable day:
The day began when I dropped three-year-old Chris off for his first morning at preschool and, since it was a hot sunny morning, took Emma for a walk in the stroller around Quidi Vidi Lake. She fell asleep, and I drove home thinking I’d put her down for a nap and get some writing done. I must have had a tape playing in the car (remember tapes? my car didn’t have a CD player, and nobody’s car had an MP3 input) because I didn’t have the radio on.
A few minutes after I got home, my dad called to ask if I’d seen or heard any news. He told me to get online or turn on the news. The second plane had just hit the tower, and the world was starting to realize that what was happening in New York was not an accident.
Like everyone else, I listened to updates all morning and didn’t get much work done. Emma woke from her nap. We picked Chris up from preschool. We learned that all US airports were closed to air traffic and numerous planes headed to the US from overseas were being diverted to Newfoundland. I think I called my cousin Jennifer, who had arrived by plane the night before, and commented on what a good thing it was that she had flown on the 10th instead of the 11th. Then I took the kids and met up with my friend Donalda, who had two similar-aged children. We went to the playground on Macdonald Drive. It was really hot by this time — does anyone in St. John’s remember what a hot day that was? — and the kids were all at the age where airplanes were utterly fascinating. The playground had a great view of the skies over the airport, and every few minutes we yelled, “Look! Plane!” to the kids as another plane landed at Torbay, one after another being forced to land there.
The kids, of course, thought this was brilliant. To us adults, it was more sobering. And yet (for me anyway) it was also strangely intriguing. Tragic, but fascinating. Nothing like this had happened so close to home in my lifetime. People kept saying the world was going to change after that day. Would it?
Ten years ago, I remember a world that was relieved by the end of the Cold War, elated by the possibilities of a new millennium, tentatively hopeful about the prospects of peace. Ten years later, over 1700 US soldiers, almost 400 British soldiers, and 157 Canadians (11 of them Newfoundlanders) have been killed in the war in Afghanistan. Almost 4500 Americans, nearly 200 UK troops, and 139 from other countries have been killed in Iraq.
Rough estimates suggest that about 100,000 Iraqis and 20,000 Afghans have died in the last ten years (but numbers are hard to determine). Saddam Hussein is dead and gone. The Taliban is no longer in power (though by no means gone) in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden is dead. Are the lives of people in Iraq and Afghanistan going to be better or worse, in the long run, as a result of these wars? That’s the kind of question it takes a lot longer than ten years to see the answer to.
Has the “war on terror” made the world safer from terrorism? It doesn’t feel that way. All of us in North America have gotten used to more rigorous security screenings when we travel, to taking off our shoes in airport security lineups and not carrying liquids or gels in our carry-on luggage. Yet we still travel, and most of us haven’t changed the way we live in any very fundamental way. Since 2001 I’ve travelled to England, Australia and four countries on the European mainland, and I have to say that most of us in the developed world still seem to be enjoying pretty much the same lifestyle we were ten years ago.
Ten years ago, I was turning 36. Today, I’m turning 46.
I had quit teaching to stay home with my then one-year-old and three-year-old children. I found raising toddlers exhausting, challenging, and immensely fun and rewarding. I constantly questioned whether I was doing it right but never whether I had made the right choice. I had no desire to go back to teaching.
Today I’m teaching in a non-traditional adult-education program, coming home at the end of busy days to my eleven-year-old and my thirteen-year-old. I find raising a pre-teen and a teenager exhausting, challenging, and immensely fun and rewarding. I constantly question whether I’m doing it right but never whether I’ve made the right choice in having kids. I’m very glad I went back to teaching and very glad I didn’t go back to the regular school system.
Ten years ago, I was happily married to Jason. Still am.
Ten years ago, I had had 8 books published. I was hoping to find a publisher for the manuscript I’d just finished and working on another one without knowing where it would end up. I was waiting for my “big break” as a writer.
Today, I’ve had twenty books published, with two more due out before the end of this year. I have two manuscripts I’m hoping to find a publisher for, another I’m working on without knowing where it will end up — and yes, still waiting for that big break.
Looking at my own life and at the world over the ten years since my last birthday, all I can conclude is that … whether it’s a single cataclysmic event or the passage of a decade, everything changes. And almost nothing changes. We adapt to change, whether it’s getting older or living in a country at war. As a species, our ability to adapt is what saves and curses us — we survive because we adapt, but sometimes we adapt to things — war, tyrrany, terror — instead of changing them. We get used to situations that were previously unthinkable. And life goes on.
Life goes on, and has gone on, for ten years. For me, for you. But not for the people who died that day, or those who died in all the days since because of what happened that day. I get tired, as many people do, of the endless 9/11 anniversary media hype — but it doesn’t seem too much, after ten years, to take one day to stop and remember those for whom life didn’t go on.