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my tribute to Sept 11th 2001my tribute to September 11th 2001


It was just 4 days before my long and eagerly awaited trip to America to visit my friend, when the unthinkable happened and New York and Washington became the targets of a terrorist attack. I, like the rest of the 'civilized' world was numb with the shock of what had happened and will never be able to put into words my thoughts, feelings, emotions and disbelief at the events of September 11th. My trip seemed most unlikely to go ahead, and under the circumstances seemed extremely inappropriate. My friend and I discussed the wisdom of cancelling our plans ... for reasons of safety and out of respect. It was a difficult decision for many reasons, but we decided to continue with our arrangements if at all possible. Fortunately US air space re-opened the day before I was due to leave, and I found out that my flight, though subject to many delays, would nevertheless be flying to Pittsburgh as planned. I must admit to having very many concerns, made worse by the fact that it was my first ever flight. Still, I arrived at the airport in good time, went through the extremely rigorous and thorough security procedures, and after a long and worrisome journey I touched down at Pittsburgh in the afternoon of September 15th. The sheer relief of our safe arrival caused spontaneous applause to erupt throughout the plane as it was still rolling along the runway.

I was met by my friend and the week that followed will remain in my thoughts for evermore. Our meeting, and the days that followed, is another story in itself, but suffice it to say we had a most wonderful time despite the fact that the events of September 11th were never far from our thoughts. As the week progressed, we became more and more aware of flags flying outside houses, on commercial buildings, on cars ... in fact  just about everywhere. There seemed to be an ever increasing sense of people united.

On the last day of my holiday, my friend and I stopped at a Wall-Mart to get some last minute photo's developed, and while trying to use up our last few frames of film, were challenged by a lady looking quite worried and wanting an explanation as to why we were taking pictures in a store. Her name was Mary. Having given her a brief explanation, we went on our way, but I was feeling very bad over our conduct and felt the need to apologise. I returned to the spot and gave Mary a better explanation as to why the photo's were so important to us, and apologised for our behaviour. Mary explained about how extremely sensitive everyone was as a result of the recent terrorism, and how anything out of the ordinary needed to be challenged. I had not considered how 'out of the ordinary' my friend and I must have looked as we hurried around the store taking pictures. I acknowledged Mary's reasoning and expressed my regret for being so insensitive and thoughtless at such a worrying time. As I left Mary I reflected on how worrying it must have been for her to have to challenge us in that way, and I hoped that my further explanation and apology had helped her feel more easy over our presence.

Just as we had seen an increasing number of flags flying day after day, I now noticed more and more people wearing a "flag" lapel badge (or pin), and the sense of unity was so strong I felt I wanted to show my support publicly. I knew that Britain as a country stood firmly alongside America, and events like the Guards at the Queens palace playing The Stars & Stripes were stories that had been told on both sides of the Atlantic. I was proud to be British .... proud that my fellow countrymen felt as strongly about the situation as I did .... and proud to be in America, with Americans, at this awful time. Now I wanted desperately to show everyone just how much I supported America. I was also feeling a little guilty that my friend had been denied the right to join in with the public display of patriotism due to our vacation. The answer was to purchase a couple of Flag Pins and so I looked around the store. Regrettably I couldn't find them anywhere and in the end decided to ask at the Jewelry counter. The lady behind the counter was none other than Mary. She explained that over a hundred had arrived at the store that morning, but were all gone within hours. I thanked her and turned to leave, but Mary said "Wait!". I stopped and as I looked back at her, Mary removed her own flag pin and gave it to me. I was overcome and tried to say "I can't take that", but Mary insisted that she wanted me to take the pin. I thanked her again and said "Let me give you something for it", reaching into my pocket for my wallet. "OK", said Mary cheerfully, and held out her hand for it to be shaken. I gave her my hand, but that was just not enough, and so I leaned over the counter and kissed her on the cheek. "Thank you very much", I stammered, as I tried not to become too emotional. "Your welcome", replied Mary with a smile. But the smile soon dwindled into a more serious face. The three of us talked for a few minutes, and Mary explained how much the American people appreciate, and can rely on the support of the British. I had been made to feel welcome many times during my short visit to the States, but now I was being made to feel like a "friend". Mary went on to tell us of her fears, especially for her son who is of an age where he could get called up if conscription proved necessary. I squeezed Mary's hand and told her that everything will be fine ... that she will be fine ... that her boy will be fine. She choked back her emotions as she said "... anyway, God would not take my only son from me". I told her that there are troubled times ahead, but that we will all get through them. Did she believe me? I doubt it ... but she forced a smile through her tears, and nodded her agreement. I thanked her again, let go her hand, and my friend and I left.

It was one of the most moving few minutes of my life, and an encounter that I will never ever forget. I will never see Mary again, and will never know of her son, but what happened at that store, on that day, will live with me forever.

I proudly wear my American Flag often. It is no longer just a flag but a symbol of freedom and justice ... and of friendship.

my tribute to Sept 11th 2001my tribute to September 11th 2001

God bless Mary ...

God bless America.