Kittie Howard

Saturday, September 11, 2010

September 11, 2001

On September 11, 2001, my husband and I flew from Rome, Italy, to Istanbul, Turkey, on Turkish Airlines, an airline we had flown before to Istanbul. After a glorious week in Rome, where we, two Americans, had once lived for six months, we were pleasantly tired from playing tourist, a bit plump-cheeked from all that delicious Italian food and gelato, and, well, peacefully happy.

After the plane gained altitude and leveled off, my husband and I chatted about how much we looked forward to seeing long-time Canadian, British, American, and European friends at a reunion that had been organized by a Turkish colleague, all students years earlier at an international school in Rome.  Before joining our friends in Bodrum, a spectacular seaside town a brief plane ride from Istanbul, Dick and I would first spend three days in Istanbul, at a boutique hotel near the Grand Bazaar, our ultimate shopping destination.

Midway through the trip -- a beautiful flight across a bright blue sky above sparkling blue waters  -- flight attendants demanded the return of coffee cups, insisted purses be stored in overhead bins,  and wanted all seats in upright positions.  Like other passengers on the sparsely filled flight, we complied, not sure what to think, a bit nervous, though, for a tremor of fear raced that the aircraft had problems that would force a water landing. 

The normally polite and courteous attendants refused to answer questions.  They walked up and down the aisles, constantly surveying passengers.  Anyone going to the bathroom had to be escorted.  The aircraft flew in eerie silence.

To our relief, we landed in Istanbul and cleared customs without incident.  However, we were surprised that the bustling international airport, polished and gleaming with every amenity possible, serviced few people.  But our airport pick-up waited.  We hurried outside.

We recognized the young man who waited from a previous stay at the boutique hotel.  He greeted us warmly, and bags loaded, off we sped to the hotel.  When asked if there were a religious holiday, for Istanbul's normally crowded streets rather mirrored the airport, the young man replied by referring to all the problems in the world.  The unexpected and vague answer muted us.  And, unusual for Istanbul, the radio had been turned off.  Again, we didn't know what to think.

When we entered the hotel, we saw that about 20 people had gathered around a flat screen television near the far wall.  Since no one stood behind the check-in counter, we walked toward the group.

I lack the words to describe the raw horror we felt when we saw what had occurred in New York City.  And continued to happen.  Minutes later the second tower fell. 

Like others in the group from around the world, we remained in front of the t.v. until late into the evening and experienced every emotion imaginable.  Like others, we wanted to be home, to wrap ourselves in decency and fend off this insane monster at loose, this evil thing that chilled the soul.

The Canadian doctors among us had traveled to Istanbul for a medical conference.  They were frustrated at not being able to help the injured, and, with fear spreading that a major Canadian city could be hit, they wanted to get home where medical skills might be needed.  Young doctors.  Brave young doctors.  The hotel staff went to great lengths to get them to Toronto, but to no avail. 

 Nothing moved while evil lurked. The world had coalesced into one.

The next day, hungry, for the hotel lacked a restaurant, and in need of fresh air and a walk, we headed toward the food court at the Grand Bazaar.  En route, we lost our appetites.  Unlike in the United States, photos in British, European, and Turkish newspapers are graphic.  I remember staring at a photo of a woman leaning out of a window waving a white shirt, desperate for help.  I still feel the tears falling, knowing she would die, like thousands of others, horribly so. 

But hope also emerged that the evil that had inflicted this terror would be reigned in.  As if emotions had spiraled between extremes, I lack the words to describe the warmth and graciousness shown by the Turkish people that day.  Of course we bought nothing -- How could one think of shopping?  We had forgotten about food. -- but we hungered for a nugget of information, that the terror had ceased, that sanity had regained control.  Turkish merchants refused payment for newspapers.  They even translated headlines and articles we couldn't read, plied us with tea, offered food, cried with us, condemned what had happened.  Not only the merchants.

In the Grand Bazaar that day, September 12, 2001, people from nations around the world collectively recognized the face of evil and stood together as one.  Hope reigned.  Very briefly.  But it reigned.

I don't have to tell you what happened during the ensuing years.  You know. 

But, nine years later, I yearn for a return to that moment when hope and sanity triumphed.

We've got to get our act together.  We've got to recognize self-righteous bandwagons, wherever they are, for what they are; focus on the greater good; quit blaming everyone else for being self-indulgent and greedy; and stop clawing at each other.

I'm totally sick of being in a situation where someone comes up with a great idea only to hear some pip squeak worry it might rain and watch what could have worked fall apart.  That's because I read fairy tales but live life.  We each make adjustments to get along.  If not, well, a house divided cannot stand.

In memory of those who died on 9/11 and those who still suffer from 9/11, I resolve to be a better person.