It feels like only yesterday, but it’s been eleven years since over 3,000 people died in the September 11th attacks after terrorists hijacked and crashed four planes into New York’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. For many of us here in America, it was our generation’s Pearl Harbor. A day none of us will ever forget. A day that will remain burned in our memories forever. A day when we lost more than loved ones, family members, friends, and neighbors – it was the day when we lost our innocence about terrorism.
Most Americans can vividly recall where they were when they heard or saw the news, and none of us will ever forget those images in the weeks and months that followed. With the anniversary upon us, the news will again filled with stories detailing the horrors of that day. Pictures and videos and news footage of the planes crashing into the Towers, fire fighters rushing into the buildings while others ran out, and the tireless work of First Responders from all walks of life digging through the rubble.
While my city was in ruins I was stranded 3471 miles across the Atlantic, concluding a relatively successful business trip in London. For the life of me I can’t recall a single meaningful detail about the in's and out's of those meetings or what I did there – whatever importance and meaning any of it had disappeared that Tuesday.
But what I remember so vividly was that I wasn’t alone, even though I was by myself in a country that wasn’t my own. From Grosvenor Square, where I signed a memorial book in the shadows of the US Embassy and wrapped myself in an American flag, to the streets of Kensington and Notting Hill where I wandered for hours, lost in thought and fears, Londoners embraced me as one of their own. When people learned I was an American (I am from New Jersey after all, and although I don’t necessarily believe it, it has been said that in addition to our tough, edgy attitudes we own a distinctive accent when we speak), the outpouring of emotion from everyone I met was overwhelming. I have never felt more welcomed by complete strangers, nor experienced that kind of friendship anywhere. Strangers invited me into their homes. Diners at adjoining tables in restaurants shared my pain. People cried with me. Londoners went out of their way to comfort me, grieve with me, laugh with me, and share stories over a few too many late night pints with me.
In a city of strangers I was held with a ferocity of love I had never before experienced.
Over the past few years I’ve written stories about 9/11 and its impact on those of us who lost friends and people we knew. Hardly a day passes that I don’t think about that day, friends who are no longer here, and what so many have sacrificed and lost since then. That pain will last a lifetime. But what I am always grateful for is the love from a city that embraced and loved me as one of its own. For me, the healing began that week in London.
London and its people will always own a piece of my heart.