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9/11: Close to Homes


When I worked for a wire service in Madrid in the ’90s, I had a particular dread with taking the morning shift. That’s when the Basque terrorist group ETA liked to set off its bombs. That was their M.O. in those days, an early morning explosion that would take few lives but show what could happen.

Those were hideous terrorist acts, and they transmitted horror, and it could really hit home when I passed a bomb site, or saw the security measures authorities took in government buildings or airports. We’ve since become used to metal detectors in every doorway in the U.S., but that wasn’t the case then and seeing them around Madrid could still give you pause. Like being struck by the lack of trash cans in London – where the IRA was once very active. And I certainly wasn’t callous, but despite the fact that Madrid gave me my first-ever urban village to call home, I was still an outsider. My most direct personal concern was whether I’d have to go from sleep to a 120 percent adrenaline rush of work.

But waking up concerned about reporting was nothing like the shock of waking up on Sept. 11, 2001. I was living in San Diego, and like many on the West Coast I got up after the planes had struck, waking to a, at first, sleep-fogged and literally incomprehensible horror.

When Spain felt its own shock of 9/11 directly, the attack on the Madrid trains in March 2004, it pierced me more than the many ETA bombings had. The train line bombed was one my husband rode regularly when we lived in Madrid, and one his sister took almost daily then, although no one we knew was killed. That’s of course lucky for us, but there were many others mourning.

These days it feels like we’re way too accustomed to the post-disaster drill of checking in with people far away to make sure they’re OK. Since 9/11 taught us disaster can come anywhere, the world has felt physically smaller; Americans, in particular, lost the feeling of a protective, distancing border.

But the world also feels smaller now because some layer of emotional separateness has been harshly stripped away – if we remember 9/11, we can understand better what others’ sorrow feels like. (Although I’ll do my remembering while trying not to see the still too painful images of the day again.)

In some ways, being a parent, for me, helps with that emotional understanding. Seeing mothers and fathers experiencing the same joy and concern and oh yes, frustration, even in very different cultures, is a glimpse of feelings that seem like human universals.

San Diego County has a huge military presence, including the Marine’s Camp Pendleton, a major training site. As a mom at home with young sons, I used to watch as – yes, it’s a cliché, but it’s nonetheless true – other mothers’ sons and daughters were shipped off to their deaths, and to places where many other families are mourning too. The war they’re dying in now is only nominally related to fighting terrorism, but nevertheless they’ve been caught up in the aftermath of the 9/11 attack.

And the aftermath came in and caught many of these folks who are marching off while they were going about their regular lives. Rather than the shock of a draft notice, those already in the military and the reservists were simply carrying on with their jobs when all of a sudden the terms changed.

It’s much harder to feel like an untouched outsider these days, no matter where you are. We are all vulnerable, we are all struggling, we are all somebody’s child. Tragedy is a horrible way to be united, but it can remind us of our most profound shared human nature.

Share  Posted by Deborah Klosky at 11:56 AM | Permalink

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