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Honouring 9-11


NEWS
Filed by Jack Yan/September 11, 2009/14.07


I don’t think we could let September 11, 2009 pass without marking what had happened in the United States eight years ago. As with this year, the day fell during New York Fashion Week, and as the publisher I had a few things to contend with.
   I had returned to Wellington from Manhattan only weeks before, and was woken on the morning of the 12th to learn what had happened. (One has to bear in mind that for most Kiwis, the tragedies of 9-11, thanks to time zones, took place on September 12, 2001, New Zealand standard time.) One of our correspondents, Edward Hodges, had watched the morning television and called me before 6 a.m. to inform me of the attacks.
   Maybe it was a case of grace under pressure, because I remember being very methodical on what I had to do. First, find out that everyone in the company was all right—both at Jack Yan & Associates and Lucire. Secondly, issue a press statement if it was needed. Thirdly, attend the opening of the Wellington Fashion Festival, beginning that morning at Kirkcaldie & Stain’s. (I still have the parking stub (left), kept not because it was issued on September 12, but that it was left in a suit pocket.)
   It was a rushed visit to Kirk’s—a show-my-face one—before I headed back to the office to keep an eye on things. While I received word that the Fashion Week team was fine, I had one friend who used to get off at the WTC subway stop around the time of the first jet striking the Towers. It was only when I got back to the office when I managed to get through and ascertain that he was alive and well.
   No one was in a mood to celebrate the rest of the Festival. I had received emails from friends in Manhattan, as they took digital photographs of people jumping to their deaths and the Towers burning. It was macabre, but then, they were probably in the same state of shock as I was. We kept Lucire updated the whole day—before blogs became commonplace—and the home page went from our trade mark red to a black background.
   I recently talked to Cushla Reed, who runs Minx Shoes, about the day. She had to show one of the first evening collections of the night, and we sat there mostly stunned. While New York suspended its Fashion Week, Wellingtonians tried to carry on with their show. I also spoke recently with jewellery designer Mandi Kingsbury, whom I met that evening. She remembers ‘9-11’ well, and indeed had a flight booked for the following day. We speculated on how safe it would be to travel, and I recall I was less confident than I am now, when I tell people, ‘The safest time to fly would have been September 12, 2001.’ I didn’t feel that on the day.
   In fact, I am not sure how I felt.
   Eight years on, where are we now? Maybe more cynical, less certain of the bright promise of the millennium parties. I am not sure if we are any wiser, or internationally aware, compared to where we were before that day. Wars have been waged in the name of 9-11, but they have not brought greater harmony to the world. And I doubt if that is how the victims—not just those killed that day in the attacks, but people who lost their lives in the subsequent wars—would like us to honour their memories.
   Leaving aside the question of the right or wrong of the War on Terror, we need to ask ourselves: what is the best way to honour those who fell?
   It’s not in monuments.
   It’s certainly not in expressing hate.
   I believe it’s about restoring unity.
   There was unity aboard United flight 93. There was unity among all peace-loving nations in the wake of the terror attacks. And humankind tends toward that unity, no matter what divisions some entrenched interests would like to create between people of this world.
   Go anywhere in the world and you’re far more likely to find an outstretched hand of friendship than a mugger.
   Yet we forget those face-to-face lessons. We see the pettiest squabbles delivered in blog comments. We sit comfortably lecturing others on why they are wrong. On the internet, we see leftists sealing themselves off from rightists; rightists sealing themselves off from leftists; and no one ever seems to want to understand the other side as a few minor parties engineer campaigns of hate. Isolation and polarization seem to be the order of the day, whether one is arguing about war, health care, or international politics.
   Our squabbles and our division are exactly what the terrorists want to see from us.
   We only scared them for a brief time when we, as a planet, showed we were behind the victims of 9-11. I don’t think we are worrying them as much now.
   Yet, we have more tools to create unity, and more technology to offer that hand of friendship between nations, than we have ever had at any time in human history.
   Why aren’t more of us using these tools to create alliances, friendships and understandings?
   Or, more to the point, using these tools to honour those who have died on and since September 11, 2001?
   Have we really been tricked by a tiny minority, a minority that wants to engender hate, to forget that we are capable of coming together on the future of our planet?
   If we are really to honour the fallen of 9-11, then it’s in extending our hands out again, maybe to a total stranger, maybe to someone of an entirely different culture, and saying a simple word: ‘Hello.’
   And let the conversation begin.

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