I grew up in the Midwest United States. It’s a flat region. The land is flat – like a piece of paper. Indeed, it could be considered to be flatter thanNorwich! The land is vast and featureless. There the farmers grow corn and beans. In fact, have you ever seen North by Northwest? You remember the bit where the protagonist is running away from the airplane that’s coming? That was filmed in my region!
The winters are unspeakably cold and are characterised by snowstorms so violent that you can’t see your hand at the end of your arm; ice storms that create beautiful but deadly sculptures on the trees and fences; and wind that makes snow drift like sand in a dessert. It can be a cruel place to live. I think the people who stay have a rugged determined streak. The place has a beautiful barren quality in the winter. If you grow up there, you can’t help but be a strong individual.
The summers are equally taxing. I will say it’s hot but that is something of an understatement. It’s a sweltering hot. The humidity, without a cloud in the sky, can easily reach 98%, 99% and even 100%. Imagine a Turkish bath but with the sun beating down on your head… As an Englishwoman, my first instinct is to open the windows in the flat if I’m hot but in theUSI close everything and turn on the air conditioning. For example, I remember my ex had a hard time with this concept; I’d notice he’d open the window of the car and I’d tell him to close it again: it was hotter outside! It’s little wonder that we don’t spend a lot of time in the sun!
I grew up in a more innocent time. Terrorism was something that happened to other people in other places. As much as I see that Americans were wrong for believing that two oceans would keep out the madness, at the time I didn’t appreciate the cocoon that I lived in.
On September 11th 2011, with 5 hours time difference, it was the afternoon when I first got an email from a friend about the attacks. The first thought was that it was a tragic accident. The next few hours, with yet another plane and another plane going down, we all wondered with horrified awe “What next?” Although I didn’t know anyone there, I couldn’t help but cry.
My ex husband was due to be on a conference call with someone in the World Trade Centre and, frustrated, he left the meeting room to find out why he couldn’t get through to find no one could get through to New York.
A few months later my ex and I travelled to the South of France. We overheard some Americans behind us in a queue talking about the new and severe safety procedures put in place when they travelled. My ex – in a very loud voice – said “New Yorkers got what they deserved on September 11th – they’ve been funding the IRA for decades!” While my ex believed the attacks were a consequence of meddling in international politics, I focused on the future.
At the time I said to anyone who would listen that we shouldn’t send troops over to Afghanistan and Iraq. Because Americans felt they had to do something, I advocated sending over the Army Corps of Engineers to Afghanistan and building hospitals, schools, irrigation systems and roads to encourage farmers to become builders and, those that remained in farming, should be given help and advice from the Americans to ensure that they grew food – not poppies.
Of course having a more positive response wouldn’t cure the world’s ills, but we wouldn’t be in the mess we are today had we looked at September 11th as an opportunity to break out of our cocoons, to show that we value life equally across the world, to provide inspiration for the politics of understanding and forgiveness. Sometimes it’s a good idea to draw a line under something horrible and, by doing something positive in response, the world benefits.
Ten years later my life is a million times better than it was back then: I’m married to the love of my life; I have my multiple diagnoses for my chronic illnesses and, thanks to plenty of time and effort, I manage them reasonably well; and I live in a quiet village and enjoy a relatively stress-free life. Unfortunately, some people haven’t had such a positive decade.
Peace to you and yours.