Monday, September 11, 2006

Where were you back when...

Helsingin Sanomat's web forum has a thread now where people tell where they were on 9/11. Reading it made me think that one should always have an irc channel (or several) full of friends available when something big happens.

Well, technically I was asleep when It Happened. Woke up in my apartment in Brighton about nine in the morning, did whatever it is one normally does in the morning, pulled my pants on and opened the door to go to work. The phone rang. The caller ID showed the workplace of my friend Anya, but I decided not to answer it and to call her from work. So I ran to the bus slightly pondering the mystery of Anya being awake enough to dial a number before 10am.

In the building where I worked the combined receptionist/security guard named Felix was listening to a radio and waving his hands at me. Felix was a graduate student from Ghana who was writing a thesis on Islamic extremism. He used to tell me that if Islamic terrorists are not stopped/watched/hunted well enough they are going to blow up something big in the US, for example try WTC again like they did in 1993. I usually listened to all that in a politely incredulous way. On that day he was waving his hands frantically and screaming "See? See? I told you they were gonna blow up the World Trade Center and now they did it!"

"Felix," - I said, - "this is not funny. Especially at this hour in the morning." He started saying something but then my cell phone rang and I answered it.

"Have you heard what's happening?" - my mother screamed in my ear, - "they blew up the WTC!"

Suppressing the paranoid thought that my mother and Felix must be pulling my leg together in a coordinated way i realized that it must be true, and that the first implication of it must be that I owe the guy an apology.

"Shit," - I said, - "I am really sorry. You were right and I was wrong and I could not believe it at first and what's going on?"

Felix filled me in on the only details that came from the radio, which was that two passenger planes hijacked from Boston crashed into the two towers and that there probably are more hijacked planes. I thanked him and went to work. While I walked to the second floor the following thoughts came to my mind:

1. "Eek, tens of thousands of people probably died there!" (I did not realize yet that the towers did not fall immediately on impact.)
2. "Are we gonna nuke somebody?"
3. "I want us to nuke somebody! Please?"
4. "How is this gonna affect my plans to go to Finland for job interviews next week, and the outcome of said interviews?"
5. A dawning realization that no matter what my stated beliefs are, or how wrong I consider this to be, to me my plans to move to Finland by the end of the year are infinitely more valuable than lives of, say, one billion of strangers on the other end of the world, and if my plans could be fulfilled only by killing them all I wouldn't really mind it. Of course I would say that this is the wrong thing to do and even believe it, but I would still be glad that it is being done. Which means that either I am an unusually bad person, which is not a comforting thought, or the feeling is mutual and common, which is even less of a comforting thought. I was not used to this kind of cognitive dissonance back then.

At work nobody was working. The bosses were at the door, all ready to go find some bar with a TV, and the developers were reading and watching news on the net all the time. I called Anya and she told me that they were all sent home on account of terrorism (her workplace is right in between Boston's two tallest towers).

Rumors abounded and nobody was sure of anything. 3 hijacked planes? 4? 5? 7? Which planes? Where are they gonna fall? Anything falling into Boston? Was it a plane in Pentagon, or a car bomb? How did the fuckers hijack the planes anyway? Where the fuck are the family friends who live in NYC?

Reloading CNN took ages until they removed everything besides the terrorism coverage. Often the first news we got were through the net version of Helsingin Sanomat.

Irc provided a lot of comfort that day. Friends and news are both comforting in such moments. It provided some discomfort too, when I realized that one person was openly glad, but all in all it felt really good to share news and speculations with friends on the other side of the world.

How did people cope without irc?

When I was watching United 93 I realized that if 9/11 happened today there probably would have been people ircing from the planes, and sending hijackers' pictures, and god knows what. Not that it would have made a lot of difference...

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