Friday, September 28, 2001
After 9/11 ... Coming Home
On September 11, I was in Limerick, Ireland. My friend and I casually switched on the TV in our hotel room at 2:15 p.m. to catch up with the news. For the next several hours we stared in disbelief and horror as the tragedy in our country unfolded.
We made anxious phone calls to family and friends back home and, reassured that they were safe, we took a short walk in a quiet neighborhood where the air was clean and the flowers brilliant. A young woman walked past us and said in her Irish brogue, "Isn't it terrible?" Realizing we were Americans, she touched us on the arm and said, "I'm so sorry." This was the first of many spontaneous connections made over the next few dayscompanions on our bus tour hugged us, our B & B owner expressed condolences, a store clerk said, "We feel very sorry for America." Comforting and heartwarming, but we wanted to go home. We desperately needed to be in our own country. With absurd intensity, I longed to see an American flag.
Two days later we were in Galway with friends, originally from Boston. We were safe, but needed to go home. And could not. Airports in Europe and the U.S. were still closed, images from Ground Zero were unspeakably grim. Our Aer Lingus flight to Boston was scheduled for Sunday, September 16, but as late as Friday evening the airline could not tell us when Shannon would reopen. CNN, BBC and e-mail kept us informed, but we could not absorb the enormity of the attacks.
Friday was a Day of Remembrance and all Irish schools and businesses were closed in honour of the victims in America. At 11 a.m. we stood in a small park, silently holding hands alongside strangers united in sorrow. Heads bowed, tears flowed, church bells tolled. Later, we walked through the hushed Galway streets where a bookshop window caught our eyea single book lay open to a black-and-white photograph of the twin towers, the pride of New York's skyline.
On Saturday Shannon reopened and the airlines flew "compassionate" passengers to New York and Washington. And on Sunday, with astonishing luck, we boarded our flight home with 313 grateful and nervous fellow passengers. As expected, security was extremely tight. We were even asked to transfer sharp objectsscissors, tweezers, nail filesfrom our carry-on to our checked luggage or they would be confiscated. No one objected.
When we touched down at Logan, passengers applauded and someone started singing "God Bless America." We all joined in, raggedly, choked with tears. But we were home and safe. I finally saw our flag, which represented for me the freedom for which my parents came to this country and which evil fanatics tried heartlessly to subvert.
In the following days I began to comprehend the paralyzing grief that gripped the nation; TV reports in Europe had not adequately conveyed our national shock and its resulting unity. The jaunty, defiant flags on Carlisle's Town Green lifted my drooping spirits and with each new flag I spotted in town, my long-dormant patriotic pride swelled. Ireland had provided me safe harbor, but Carlisle is Americahome, security, sanctuary in a shattered and uncertain world.
© 2001 The Carlisle Mosquito