Where were you when ...?
Ever since I was 18 I've been able to recall with total clarity where I was when I heard Kennedy had been killed. More recently, it has become apparent to me that I shall never forget another American tragedy - the attack on the World Trade Centre. And where was I, and how did the news come to me on that day twenty years ago?
I was teaching in the local grammar school. It was the beginning of the afternoon; I had just returned from lunch at home. My Second Year class was settling down, hanging up jackets, getting out books and jotters, looking for folders, chatting gently; I was getting ready to take the register. Then my mobile phone rang, inside my briefcase. It was a great brick of a thing, but there was no phone in the school anywhere near my classroom and I wanted to be contactable. And here I was, being contacted.
The caller was #1 son, at the time a journalist on the staff of The Guardian. He'd just seen this extraordinary thing on the newsroom monitors: a small plane seemed to have crashed into the WTC. He thought I'd be interested. And just as he was speaking, he broke off: Oh - there's another one! It wasn't an accident ...I have to go!" and he promised he'd ring later and hung up and I was left staring at the handset. My pupils, all thirty of them, had also fallen silent, and were staring at me. My face must have expressed something - but what? I couldn't even visualise the WTC towers; they weren't part of my inner movie and at the time I'd not been to New York.
Feeling stranded at the end of the long English corridor, I decided we needed to be closer to a computer. I lined up the class and told them we were going to get to the library as quietly as possible because really it wasn't their turn ... Kids that age love a ploy, and they passed along that corridor like ghosts. A quick explanation to my friend the librarian had her hunting for news, and gradually - and so slowly, we'd think now - the story unfolded. We told my class; they felt important to be among the first to know.
I had no class the last period in the afternoon, and crammed into the technician's room to watch the only live TV on that floor. And so it was that I came to see the second tower fall, live on TV. We were so silent. What do you say? Silent and rather fearful. And by the time I was home again, the world knew, and the silence was ended.
We've talked about it ever since.
Blipping the three windows in the narthex of Holy Trinity Church.