It was another mundane day at work. I was a letter sorter at UPS, as good a gig as an Anglo-kid could get in Montreal without really trying. I was good at it, I was pretty much king-shit at the warehouse. I had control of the radio. If I had my choice it would have been the campus radio station, but I needed to please as many of my co-workers as possible, and also keep myself sane, and at least mildly amused, so the radio stayed on the classic rock channel all day long. What does it matter? I will tell you, hold on.
I was sorting letters, not really paying attention to the radio, when a classic rock tune was cut off midway through. Odd. Then I hear the DJ say that he is getting breaking news that a plane has hit one of the Twin Towers in New York. Wow, I thought, that's some crazy shit. Then I continued to sort again. The music continued, everything was back to normal. So I thought.
I am not sure how long 'normal' lasted. There was nothing at all normal about this day. Well duh, you say, this was 9/11, the shit was just beginning to hit the fan.
The music stopped. The DJs, the morning guys, cheesy jokesters, were suddenly serious, shocked, numb. They reported that a second plane had hit the second Tower, and that it appeared that there was a terrorist attack under way in New York City. Holy shit!
Everything stopped. The warehouse ground to a halt. No boxes moved on the treadmills, I dropped my bag of letters. The odd person asked, what the hell is happening? What do we do now? Why is this happening? Why indeed.
We were sent home. I remember how calm and sedate the drive home was. I had the news channel on the radio, as I think everyone else did. Montreal at 9:00 am, usually a wall to wall, survival of the fittest, jungle of a drive, seemed orderly... you could sense the shock in the air.
My girlfriend who had just gotten out of bed, met me at the door in tears, and said, 'Joe have you heard the news? It's all over the TV.' Yes, I said, 'They sent us home, not sure when they will call us back.' I then plunked down on the couch, where I watched the news almost 24/7 for a week.
On the couch, my still teary, but relatively appeased girlfriend curled up at my side. I witnessed the towers collapse. All I could think was, this isn't real, this is like a big budget action movie. How could this happen? Why, what is the point? Terrorism, Bin Laden, I felt were nothing more then the things of fairy tales, they were the monsters in closets, the troll under bridges. This isn't real, why now? Christ we just got past the hype of Y2K. Hell the US has a mental midget for a President, are we all doomed?
I didn't feel emotional until a few days later when then Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien made a speech at a memorial for the victims of the attacks of 9/11. Chretien is not a noted orator. He is the little guy from Shawinigan. But there was a tone, a quiver, an emotional honesty to his speech that made me cry my eyes out. I had felt detached, maybe through shock and disbelief the first few days after 9/11, but Chretien in his broken English, was able to articulate just how I and I think most other Canadians were feeling at time, which was grief, fatigue and love for our friends, cousins, and neighbours in the United States.
I will forever be left with the why, and the how? There are aspects to the story of 9/11 that like the death of JFK will never seem truly factual. There are holes in this tragic story, that might never be honestly filled. But is that the point? Not on this day, this day is one for reflection, one to grieve those that were pointlessly lost. A day to say I love New York. A day not to bitch about the ills of American politics. A day to act like good neighbours. God Bless America.