The September 11 disaster will be a perennial choice for the "What were you doing when ... ?" question. As with John Lennon's death and the Challenger disaster, I can remember vividly what I was doing the moment I heard the news.
Shortly after 9am, word was spreading through our office about the attacks on the twin towers. Soon after, a television set was set up in the common area and a crowd was forming around it. The managers probably concluded early on that nobody was going to get any work done that day.
Just before 10am, I got a call from Todd, who had arrived in Los Angeles a couple of days earlier. He had just woken up, as it was 7am in his time zone, and he had not had any news of the day yet. After I told him what I knew, he looked out his hotel window and saw armed officials patrolling the streets. Later in the day, he found out that the conference he was to attend in San Diego was cancelled, as was his flight home.
That evening, I spoke to my mother in Montreal. She had spent the entire day trying to reach our many relatives in New York City. We found out the next day, to our great relief, that all were accounted for, including a cousin who worked on the ground floor of the World Trade Center.
Over the next few days, I worried about how Todd was going to get home. Though I didn't have any real concern about his safety, we figured that being out of the country at that time was not a particularly good idea. Todd and his colleagues decided to rent a minivan and start driving in the general direction of Canada. After a few days in the car, they reached Des Moines, where they were finally able to get a flight to Toronto. Five days after the disaster, Todd arrived home. A friend of ours, who lives near us and who was also in southern California for a different business meeting, decided to wait it out at a beach resort. He arrived home shortly before Todd did.
I worried also about my Muslim friends, many of whom I'd met during my graduate studies, and hoped that the fallout wouldn't affect their families greatly. One of my saddest moments was seeing a former high-school teacher on the CBC news, several weeks after the disaster, talking about the daughter and son-in-law he lost when the towers collapsed. I'd always remembered him as an energetic, funny and powerful man, but that day, he seemed so fragile and broken.
As a child, I'd spent several summers in New York City, and I recall my aunt proudly pointing out the antenna on top of one of the towers. Her son, an engineer, had been part of the design team. I haven't been back to New York City in 30 years, but I would like to return one day soon and see how the city has changed.