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On fleeting moments

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DO you remember where you were on 9/11? More importantly were you even here? It was the year my dad had died, incidentally the same year I’d met Mr O. It would yet be another year before we began dating, another two before I resigned and applied for a full-time job. It was early adulthood, but one not yet burdened by adult worries.

I remember vividly where I was. In London, first day of the week for me at my part-time admin job at a bank in Finsbury Square in Moorgate, checking through the email during the quiet afternoon slump where the hours seem to stretch like gum until it is home time, when it was too early to moan about the week ahead or make plans for the weekend that for me started on Thursday afternoon.

It was a sunny afternoon in London, the last crumbs of summer, or perhaps the first promise of an Indian summer to enjoy yet well into October. The bright sunshine and blue skies over London, the late lunch crowd still lingering on the green grass of the Square, languid in the sunshine… It felt like any other Tuesday afternoon… like nothing extraordinary could ever happen, there, or anywhere else in the world. Little did we know over another continent, in the skies of another metropolis, things were about to horribly wrong, with implications affecting the world for at least two decades to come.

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I recall, like yesterday, my manager walking in from his mail round, where he’d been to the trading floor, which was the only office with TVs at the time and announcing, “A plane’s hit one of the towers at the World Trade Centre.”

Soon after came the news of the second plane plunging into the side of the other tower, and the reports of planes hijacked and terrorism alerts.

Selfishly perhaps, I remember thinking no one I knew worked at or anywhere near the Twin Towers, yet the shock of the news and the fear of death that had touched my family only two months before, on July 11, made me call my mum first trying to make sense of a world that no longer made sense. For Mr. O. and his family, it was a worrying couple of hours as his sister used to work in the building opposite one of the Towers. They had been evacuated, and as they discovered hours later, she was in relative safety back at her New Jersey home.

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Today, due to some morbid algorithm, Apple News has brought me news of a range of freak accidents around the world – the man who was crushed to death by his car when he came out to retrieve a bank card he’d dropped while trying to pay at the drive-through, another crushed to death while trying to stop his car from rolling away at the gas station, a family with a young baby and their dog being killed by lightning while on a hike.

As I scrolled through these sad tales of strangers’ demises, I couldn’t help but wonder ‘What if?’ What if the driver hadn’t dropped his card? What if the other one had pulled the hand brake? What if the family had found shelter before the lighting struck? There are so many ‘What ifs’ we all live through daily which we are not even aware of.

This came full-circle back to 9/11 of course when I remembered the stories of survivors who experienced one of the most era-defining events in our collective memory from the womb. 19-year-old New Yorker Nicholas Bellini Gorki shares his story:

“The morning of 11 September 2001 was one of the first after they’d secured an apartment together. Dad worked in Midtown, but that day he’d volunteered to take an early morning meeting at the World Trade Centre. Mum always worked inside the Twin Towers, but that morning, struck with morning sickness, she was running late. It was a beautiful day, so she decided to take a minute for a breath outside the office. That’s when she heard a noise above her, and looked up to see a big ball of fire. If I hadn’t been making her nauseous, she too would have been 70-floors up. Dad died that day, aged just 27.”

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What makes someone who could have easily been in the path of a hijacked plane survive while another who by chance ended up there die? Luck? Fate?

In 2010, after watching Remember Me, the fictional story of a family who lost their son on 9/11, I remember entertaining similar questions. Marketed more as a fluffy romantic comedy from what the trailers may have lead you to believe, Remember Me is much more an ode to life, and as the tagline “Live in the moments” suggests, and an ode to love, strength of family, pain of loss, power of forgiveness, seizing the day, the trace of fingerprints we leave on the lives we touch, the ones we heal and the lessons we learn and teach.

Perhaps this is why we always remember where we were when tragedy strikes somewhere in the world, no matter how near or far. After all they remind us of our own transience and vulnerability, just how frail that little thread that connects our mortal coil to the “baseless fabric of our vision” is, of the fleeting nature of life and the enigma of what opportunity or danger each waking moment, each breaking day can bring.

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