Where Were You on 9/11/2001?

We woke up aboard our sailboat in the Tauranga Bridge Marina in New Zealand. My husband and I had arrived in NZ the previous December after sailing across the Pacific. We had no TV and rarely listened to the radio.

American Flag + Chicago Skyline
Image: Tony Webster

We woke up, went for an early morning walk, and had some breakfast back at the boat. Then it was time for Todd to head off to work. As we stepped into our cockpit, our neighbor on the next sailboat opened his hatch and stepped up a step. His head and shoulders were in the morning air.

“May I express my deepest condolences,” he said to us somberly.

Our blank looks let him know we were at a loss.

“Oh, you haven’t heard.”

I thought it must be something in the news. What could be so bad that our New Zealand friend would be expressing condolences to his American neighbors? And then I found out.

Everyone in New Zealand felt the shock of it. What surprised me in the days and weeks ahead was that the New Zealanders quickly got over the shock, whereas Todd and I continued to grieve. This difference confused and bewildered me at the time. In hindsight I realized and understood the difference between initial shock and lingering grief. It was hard to be so far away from our grieving communities while surrounded by people who didn’t realize what we were going through. We didn’t fully realize it ourselves, for that matter.

About a week later, the nearby fire department had a short memorial in front of their firehouse. They lowered their flag to half mast and, dressed in full fire fighting gear, processed up and down the sidewalk for several minutes in memory of the first responders who lost their lives when the towers and other buildings collapsed. Todd and I arrived as they finished their procession. The tragedy was still affecting Todd hard. The firefighters could see his grief. They didn’t say much, but simply stood with him in commiseration. It was a balm to our wounds.

Image source.