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Remembering 9/11 – Moving from Panic to Peace
Today is the 18th anniversary of 9/11: that terrible and fateful day on which 2,996 people lost their lives. I still remember where I was when I heard the news: at a conference in London, and there were US speakers there who just shut down. We were all numb at the horror of it all.
Later, I watched office workers almost hurl themselves down the stairs of the tube stations, panic stricken and aching to get back to their families and friends. I needed to walk, to let this horror settle. I meandered into Selfridge’s department store to talk to strangers. It’s my habit, I don’t phone family or friends, instead, I talk to strangers.
Up on the second floor, in the shoe department, I talked to a sales assistant from Hong Kong. Her brother worked in the restaurant of the World Trade Center, and she’d been calling him all day, but there was no answer. She was beside herself with worry. I asked why her boss hadn’t let her go home, but she told me it was better to work, than sit at home and worry. The shoes I bought (yes, I bought something) were blood red and black patent.
We talked about it at home: trying to understand why people would want to cause such mass destruction: such hatred. Two years later, I’d been made redundant, and I recycled those shoes, which I’d rarely worn.
Four years later, I was in New York, visiting an old classmate of mine, from my schooldays in Ethiopia. Azeb worked for the UN, and she kindly let me stay at her brownstone in Harlem. (And Harlem people were really friendly and helpful: it was like being back in Ethiopia for me – a kind of home.)
Two days before my departure, I visited Ground Zero to see for myself. It was then a barren landscape, like the moon, surrounded by wire fences. There weren’t many visitors that day, as it was a bitterly cold February day and windy. A strong wind blew off the Hudson river.
Just as on 9/11, I meandered around the plot and found a small church, very simple, reminding me of Lutheran churches in Norway: St. Paul’s on Trinity Street. They had an exhibition inside, dedicated to all the rescue workers who’d help clear the site. There were poems and photos of the loved ones lost so suddenly, along with camp beds where the rescue workers had slept. My heart also knew – in the gnosis which comes from the heart, that I’d find something to ease the pain.
And here it is: a vivid and abundant display of hundreds of peace cranes, sent from the children of Japan (Hiroshima and Nagasaki) to the children of the US, and actually the world, because so many nationalities had lost their lives in the attack. This is the final photo in my first book “An Ethiopian Odyssey” , which demonstrates the incredible interconnectedness between us and the kindness of strangers (people around the world who helped me find my classmates.)
Those peace cranes are my heart’s symbol. Today, as I work on my second book about healing my childhood, I’m emailing the son of an extraordinary man who worked for peace in Israel/Palestine. He and I met 14 years ago, in Tel Aviv: he was a Kindertransport child. How did I know to include him in the book? My father served in Palestine (1946) and the Parents Circle Family Forum had visited Japan some months earlier where they were photographed with Japanese people standing beside peace cranes. I found peace cranes on their website. Why wouldn’t I include them?
So, from my heart to yours, let our journeys bring peace to our hearts; our families, our communities and the world. Half of the profits from book 2 will go to addiction services, because addicts are despised and marginalised, just as my younger brother, Eric, was.
Peace, shalom, salaam, namaste.