The clearest memory I have of 9/11 actually occurred one year after the attacks. In 2002, I had arrived at Heathrow Airport in London and was waiting for my connecting flight to Leeds. I had just retired from dance and was about to embark on a totally different direction in my life, entering academia in a country I imagined was a cross between a Dicken’s novel and a Hugh Grant movie.
Of course, I was aware that I was traveling on the first anniversary of 9/11. There was much fuss on the news about air travel leading up to that day. But I was more excited about being in Europe for the first time and starting an adventure.
By accident, my brief layover at Heathrow coincided with the exact time of the attacks from the year before. I was groggy from the 14 hour plane ride, the time change, and agitated by the cigarette smoke that seemed to be everywhere. A woman announced over the loudspeakers that in a few seconds it would be the anniversary of the attacks. She asked us to observe 2 minutes of silence to honor the victims.
Heathrow is the busiest airport in Europe by far, and the 3rd busiest in the world. Yet, for those next two minutes everyone stopped working. Passengers from all over the world stopped walking, or looked up from their newspapers. No one said a word. Even the children seemed to understand the gravity of the moment. I didn’t even hear a phone ring until well into the 2nd minute. I was stunned.
And moved. And humbled.
During those minutes, I felt a global energy of good will and empathy directed at Americans. It was like Britain had my back. And many other countries came to offer support and condolences in that brief memorial service. I sensed that the US could enter an era of openness and compassion with the world community. But that good energy would be squandered over the next 6 years through pointless wars, domestic paranoia, and building walls to keep the world outside.
It was an unfortunate path. But I don’t think it’s too late to get back to that other path. I think that the world would have our back again if we let them.