SEPTEMBER 10 — If numbness is a feeling, then that’s all I felt at the start of the morning. I was already late, and was ready to run to my class when Patricia called. I will always remember her words till this day, “Turn on the TV”.
I then realised I was still asleep in my nightmare. The news is usually bad news, but in turning on the TV, I was now watching a Hollywood horror movie on the news channel!
I pinched myself. (They say it helps to wake from a nightmare). World Trade Center North Tower was still on fire with the wreckage of American Airlines Flight 11 inside. New York was only two hours away from where I was… minutes away if you’re in a plane. I started praying that the people trapped above would find some way to escape.
But as I kept watching, I saw another plane come into visual. I thought maybe the plane had diverted to take a closer look. Maybe the pilot of UA175 was radioing to rescuers and coordinating a response. What happened next was beyond words. To see before my eyes, a plane loaded with women, children, men…. crash into South Tower was beyond belief. I fell on my knees praying… and sobbing at the same time. So many lives — on the planes… in the buildings… this can’t be happening. “God, don’t let this be real! Please let me wake up!”
I was still on the phone with Patricia who was on the other side of the globe. All she heard me say for the next 10 minutes was “Oh God, Oh God, Oh God….”
I wasn’t sure if any of the survivors would ever recover. If they survived at all. I wasn’t sure how hundreds of families were going to get through this. I wasn’t sure how thousands across the nation would react. I wasn’t sure if I would recover either as I continued to watch the following scenes of people jumping off the towers to save themselves from the fire, only to die below.
But as AA77 and UA93 hit The Pentagon and Shanksville, I begin to realise that it wasn’t over. The planes came down around us, creating a triangle almost… just kilometres from Pennsylvania State University. Our very own Bermuda Triangle, except that we were now in the middle. It was then that I realised that maybe… just maybe, today, my life would disappear too… in this Bermuda Triangle.
I said the words that I needed to say to Patricia, that I loved her and heard hers too. We embraced and held each other virtually, that possibly the worst was upon us… that World War 3 was here, and the world we knew was ending.
From numbness, to empathy, to fear, to utter resignation… the emotional turmoil hit us, as it hit millions across the globe. It was like when we watch a blockbuster — except this Tale of The Twin Towers was anything but fiction. For many of us spectators, we were sucked into a horror we never intended; to pit people of diverse groups against each other. A plot to bring global destruction through a skewed ideology of closing the gap between earth and heaven. And it would have succeeded, if not for the thousands of peacemakers across the globe that went into action to stem the “proceeds” from this “movie” and re-channel energy towards rebuilding trust.
They say football brings the world together. But that day, 9/11, it was the common experience of trauma and death that brought the world closer. A trauma that haunted me and others for months (yes, many of us suffered from PTSD). It is strange to say this — that good came out of evil, but it did. People came together. On campus, we came together. We lit candles together. We cried together. We worked out efforts to reach out to our diverse communities. Efforts that I was involved in to minimise backlash to Muslim students were in place. With the support of the US Embassy in Malaysia, we were able to hold a conference in November with university students of different cultures in the US and Malaysia — talking, discussing, questioning, understanding… and building trust.
They say evil kills. It does. But it can only take what we allow it to. It cannot take our heart, our mind, our spirit. The gifts that unite us as humankind irrespective of colour and creed.
We woke that fateful morning — 18 years ago — to destruction. We woke the next days to fear. We woke the following days to resilience, to bravery, to brotherhood. Today, skewed destructive ideologies still remain. But the power of the human spirit to survive as a species — respecting each other as people — is the Tale of The Twin Towers that we will continue to share through the generations to come.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.