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Postcards from London: In Remembrance

Airdate: March 14, 2013

            On the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001, I had the uncommon sensation of being a stranger here.  It’s not that I expected no one to remember the day, but I’ve grown accustomed to a kind of shared grief in observing it when I’m in the U.S., and I didn’t anticipate that same feeling in the UK, now ten years after the event.

            I ventured down to the Imperial War Museum which was displaying a number of original steel girders recovered from the World Trade Center, and featuring a silent slide show of images from the airline hangar where much of the wreckage was taken for examination after being removed from the site.

            The photos were sobering, as I’d expected they’d be.  Ordinary items like briefcases and shoes, randomly collected.  Severely damaged fire engines and subway cars.  Lots and lots of glass and metal and nondescript materials.  The girders themselves were just large pieces of steel, but impossibly bent and twisted under the weight and heat of the disaster.  It was strange to look at them up close and consider the transatlantic journey they’d made for this exhibit.

            Later in the day I attended a ten year memorial service at Westminster Abbey, somewhat surprised to find that nearly every available seat was filled.  Surely these people couldn’t all be Americans, and it was clear that they weren’t.  I reminded myself that many countries lost citizens on that day, and London is a city of many nations.

            The following year, on the 11th anniversary, there were no notable events scheduled for the day, perhaps not surprisingly.  I chose to visit the permanent memorial garden in Grosvenor Square, across from the U.S. Embassy.  This structure commemorates those who lost their lives in the attacks, specifically the British citizens among them.  There are flowers planted in the garden, and a pavillion made of oak featuring a plaque with the names of the victims.

            When I arrived, there were a few other people visiting the site.  Most of them lingered for a minute or two, and then moved on.  But one woman remained, leaning against a pillar facing the memorial, and crying softly.

            It struck me that we in the the United States could be tempted to see ourselves as the sole owners of the grief which resulted from this attack, which felt personal and specifically directed at us.  We don’t always intentionally remember that citizens from 90 countries lost their lives that day, and somewhere, in every one of those countries, families are still grieving their loved ones as we are. 

            Somewhere in the rubble of that horrible day, we were reminded again of what connects us beyond our invented borders—what makes us part of each other.  It’s what drives me to cross the ocean and make my home here, in a land far from my birth, but close to my heart.  And it’s a woman, leaning against a pillar in a beautiful rose garden, holding to the memory of someone precious, in a world where in the Queen’s commemorative words, “grief is the price we pay for love.”

           — Wendy Sherer

    • Postcards from London: In Remembrance