Monday, September 10, 2007

from the "six, five years later" dept.

Much will be written today about what happened on September 11, 2001. Here's my contribution.

To say the world has changed is an understatement. I'm sure everyone but George Bush wishes things were like they were on September 10, 2001.

Like everyone else, I will always remember where I was on that day: Driving around Europe on the Great Central European Border Expedition.

We heard the news at a gas station in Lichtenstein. It was just before 6 p.m. and Peter Hering, our fearless leader, had gone in to pay. When he came out, he told us something terrible had happened in New York.

We flipped on the van's radio for the news. It was in German, but there were English words: New York, terrorist. And German words: flugzeug (airplane), angriff (attack).

Translation wasn't really needed, although Peter tried. His gasps and the look of horror on his face was enough. I actually have this moment on a video tape back in Canada.

That night, after we were nearly arrested for taking pictures on the Swiss-German border, I was able to see the first video images from NYC but with German commentary. It would be two days before I was able to watch coverage in English.

I remember trying to reach Barbra Bateman, a friend, NY Post reporter and resident of Manhattan. Eventually, I did.

I wasn't scheduled to return home to Canada until Sept. 20th. I had a week booked to explore Ireland before flying back to Toronto and, a week after that, Vancouver.

When I did get home I found that everyone had gone through an experience that I hadn't. They'd watched it live. They'd been inundated with 24-hour coverage. I missed all that. I felt like I didn't get it.

I understood what had happened, but I didn't go through the emotional wringer that all my friends had. It seemed distant, like a flood in India or an earthquake in Iran. Terrible, yes. But I was disconnected.

Back at work I went straight to the video archive and pulled the raw tapes from that day. It was awful but I still didn't really connect to the event on the same raw level.

A year later, fate determined that I'd be in New York. At ground zero, shooting the first anniversary for CTV News.

At the end of a very emotional day I was heading to ABC's temporary feed point to send my pictures home. It was located in a hotel near the site of the WTC.

As I waited for an elevator, a woman walked up. She was a firefighter, wearing her dress uniform. Thousands of emergency services personnel from around the world had come to New York to pay their respects to their fallen colleagues on the first anniversary.

I asked the woman where she was from. "Ohio", I think she said. Without thinking I asked if she was here for the anniversary.

"Yes, my sister was on one of the planes."

I got it.

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