The following is my Stage 2 Toastmasters speech. Although I gave it awhile ago, and I have written a similar post to this before, I felt it was an important addition to my blog this weekend. Now that I’m back in New York, the story I’m telling below is just one of millions. Here each and every person has a searing memory of that day. This is mine:
When a butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil, does it cause a tornado inTexas? Have you ever examined the decisions and actions that were outside your control but that somehow changed your life forever? Could you pinpoint it to just one day? To one hour? To an instant?…. I can.
The day started like any other – except it was summer reading test day. The bane of every High School student. Each summer we were assigned a couple of novels to read and on the second day back, we were quizzed. The air was warm and the sun was shining as I left the house for school that morning. The weather was so glorious that I wore knee highs with my uniform and didn’t bother with a jacket. I allowed the usual bus to pass me by as I met my friend Tara and we walked the whole twenty blocks – a feat reserved for only the nicest days.
At 8:30am the bell rang and I sat down to the test. I scrawled the date across the top of the page – it said: September 11th, 2001.
Fifteen minutes into the test, the first announcement came over the school PA.
BING BONG Attention students, will those of you with parents working at the World Trade Centre please report immediately to the general office. Thank You.
Not one girl looked up from her test.
Another twenty minutes passed then another announcement from Father Collins came over the PA.
BING BONG. Attention girls, I’m not sure how to report this…. but two commercial airplanes have hit the Twin Towers. Would anyone with parents or family working in the area please report to the general office immediately.
It’s hard to imagine ignoring something like that. But we did. When something that unimaginable happens – your brain probably doesn’t know how to process the information. It’s like reading a word that you don’t know the definition of – you simply skip it and move on to the next one. But reality was about to hit.
The silence of the classroom was broken by the bell for second period and as soon as the door opened, I knew something was seriously wrong. Cell phones were banned in school, yet every girl was on one. There were tear stained faces everywhere I looked – including my friend Tara who’s aunt worked in one of the towers. We hurried to the general office and even though it was complete chaos, one kind secretary let us use the phone to call Tara’s mum. Her aunt, she told us was absolutely fine and had gotten stuck in heavy traffic on the way to work. As she was describing the sequence of events, we still couldn’t visualise what had happened – and then Tara’s mum stopped. She stopped dead in her tracks and gasped. One of the towers had fallen…we couldn’t believe it – but it had completely collapsed.
The rest of the school day was like trying to piece together a puzzle while blind. We had no TVs and the radios were all going haywire. Teachers tried to continue with classes, but we all had so many questions that they couldn’t answer. Soon, parents started collecting their daughters one by one and there was no point in keeping school open – so we were sent home.
I should probably explain that I lived in Brooklyn – right across the river from Manhattan. It was far enough away that I couldn’t see the buildings, but close enough that all the cars in the area were covered in ash, like a dull grey snowfall. I can still vividly remember the smell of burning.
I took the bus home – which is normally packed and loud…but that day it was strangely silent. I hopped off at 79th street, not quite knowing what I’d find at home. My Mum would be at work – but my Dad had been planning a trip to Manhattan that morning.
When I got into the house, I called out but there was no answer. The place was empty and I did what anyone would do in a silent house and turned on the TV for a bit of company. What confronted me still makes me feel nauseous almost ten years later. It was a shot of the towers and all of a sudden, a plane crashed through the middle of the building heading straight towards the camera. Finally my brain had something to make sense of and the only thing I could do was cry. As I sat there, not really knowing what to think – my parents arrived home with a week’s worth of shopping. My Dad had been just about to leave for the city when the first plane hit.
The rest of the day was spent glued to the television and receiving worried phone calls from family in Ireland. I don’t remember the exact details as they unfolded. But one image has stuck with me for all these years; the hundreds of people who jumped from the towers, desperate to escape the flames. It was more like a disaster film that life.
After that day, things were very different in New York. People were kinder to their neighbours. There was a greater sense of patriotism. At first the city was angry, broken and scared, but after awhile there was a great sense of determination and strength.
That day shook me to the core for a number of reasons, but most importantly, it was the day my parents decided to leave New York and go home. The city we called home wasn’t safe anymore and my world was turned upside down. It meant a brand new life back in Ireland with new friends, a new school and a complete culture shock. When those hijackers got on those planes, they set off a butterfly effect that changed the lives of millions. For me it meant moving country, for others it meant coping with the loss of a loved one, moving career because their office was destroyed or changing their vote.
If those planes had never taken off, would I be in Ireland today?
If a butterfly flaps it’s wings in Brazil, does it cause a tornado in Texas?