Do you remember where you were on the evening of September 10th, 2001? I remember it well because I was quietly celebrating my birthday with my lovely children and their father having dinner at a local steak house in our quiet hometown on the Central Coast of California. A happy day spent together opening cards and presents when the children returned home from school, speaking on the phone to my family back ‘home’ in England.
Nothing out of the ordinary on that particular Monday.
We were all sweetly oblivious of the hideous preparations which were taking place on the East Coast, the results of which would shock us to the core the following morning.
It was a school morning the next day but I was awoken even earlier than expected by the harsh ring of the telephone. The ringtones had an air of menace about them. It isn’t natural to have someone call so early in the morning. All had seemed well the night before but I immediately sensed something was wrong. This happens when you live in a different country away from your ‘homeland’, when you are so far away from your loved ones. It is hard not to assume that something is wrong, some kind of family emergency.
When I picked up the phone, it was my then mother-in-law. She had bad sleeping habits, slept on the couch every night and watched TV on and off all night long and always got the news before anyone. It was the same when Princess Diana died. She called me and all she said was “Turn on the news, Princess Diana has died!” I was shocked. What? It can’t be? When I did turn on the news, even then there was speculation that she might still be alive. Of course, my mother-in-law was right. She always seemed to know before everyone else.
This time when I took the call she said:
“Turn on the news, somebody’s crashed a plane into the Twin Towers, a plane with a bomb is heading to LA (she lived in LA) and we are under attack!”
I turned on CNN and watched the fireman being interviewed by the news reporter just after the first plane had hit. As I watched I was thinking that it must be some kind of awful accident, but I wondered about the plane supposedly heading to LA.
I remember hearing another plane in the background and thinking, hmmm, that plane seems awfully low to me. It got louder and louder and then the TV cameraman panned away from the two men talking and zoomed in to the burning Tower and then, sure enough, there was another plane looking very close to the Towers. Before any of us watching had a chance to assimilate this and register just what was going on the unthinkable happened. Right there, in front of me, along with thousands of others on live TV, I watched, horrified, as the plane flew straight into the side of the other Tower. The kids were downstairs by now. I was crying with shock. This was it.
The world knew then that this was no accident and nothing would ever be the same again.
All that day, I thought of my family back in the UK. I thought of my brother who was a pilot for a major UK airline who that very day had been flying a Boeing 747 from Heathrow to Newark. Had he been diverted to Canada as I had been hearing on the news? Where was he? Was he alright? I couldn’t call my mother or anyone back home. For three days I couldn’t make contact with my family due to communication shutdowns.
That was the worst moment for me, being so far away from my family back in England and not being able to talk to any of them for comfort and assurance. I felt very cut off from my homeland. Of course, this was nothing compared to what others were suffering at that horrific moment.
I eventually found out that my brother, as with all approaching aircraft to the US that day, had received a call to say that he must not approach US airspace but he was not told then what had happened. As the captain, he had calculated enough fuel for a turn around and by some miracle had managed to return safely back to the UK. At the time, the passengers were demanding to know what was going on but once back on British soil and a press release was handed out, they were very grateful indeed to have been returned safely back to their homes in the UK and not stuck in Canada, separated from their loved ones.
Ever since that day in 2001, and on my birthday ever year, I take pause and think of those events and remember that day I spent with my family before the world was ripped apart. My heart goes out to all those who lost loved ones and who, even now, are affected by the seismic ripples sent out from the catastrophic events of that day.
What I also like to remember is my birthday last year.
We had a day out on a little boat trip on the river Avon in Bath. Oh I do like messing about on the river! It was a delightful day, my hubbie had even packed a bottle of bubbly so that we could celebrate in style as we watched the world go by on the water.
What was extra nice was that we had the boat all to ourselves. Our little boat man (pilot!) was so friendly and took great pains to give us the background and history of the various buildings and bridges as we motored down the river. Then, it happened. A flash of the most glorious turquoise blue, quick as a wink, caught our eyes. Our pilot stopped the boat, reversed very slowly and turned off the engine. He pointed, in silence, and there he was, the most beautiful Kingfisher, in clear view, perched majestically on a branch hanging low, just above the water.
I was desperate to get a photograph of it, my hand was shaking as I turned on my camera, and that Kingfisher didn’t move a muscle.
Now, I love Kingfishers, but they are very elusive. This was most unusual to have been able to get this close to one. Up to that point, I had only ever seen one once before and that was on Ranworth Broad in Norfolk. We caught sight of it from the back of our boat but I was unable to get photos as it flew off as quickly as it had arrived. From that day, some 15 year’s ago, I had desperately wanted to see one again.
My grandmother, ‘Dear Granny’, also adored Kingfishers. She made a lovely cross-stich picture of one once and had it framed. It hung on her wall in her living room for years and I always admired it when visiting. She obviously took note of this and ended up giving it to me as a birthday present one year. It’s so funny though. Many more years passed and now it was Dear Granny who was visiting me (in the States, when she was 89 years old, but that is another story!) and she was greatly admiring this beautiful, handmade picture of the Kingfisher as it hung on my wall.
This is how the conversation went:
“What a lovely Kingfisher picture dear, is it homemade?”
“Yes Granny, remember, you made it, isn’t it lovely?”
“Did I…oh yes, of course I did, I had forgotten! How did it end up here?”
“Errr, you very kindly gave it to me for my birthday a few year’s ago because I always admired it!”
“I did? I gave it to you? I must be going mad, I wondered where it had gone!”
Dear Granny, we had a good laugh about that.
When I look at this photo I think of the beauty of nature, of the good things in life, of the gifts we have been given by God above and I am reminded that even in the midst of the many troubles of this world there is still so much that is good, and beautiful and lovely.
My Kingfisher was my birthday present from heaven. All that was missing was the wrapping paper and the bow on top.