I’m sorry this is quite a provocative title, but I wanted to show that we don’t have to remember this date with fear and anger as so much good came out of it too.
My memories of 9/11 are quite different to many others’.
I spent the first night of my honeymoon sleeping with more than 200 strangers on the floor of a cramped Salvation Army church in a small town on the east coast of Canada.
The rest of the world watched in horror as terrorists attacked the United States and showed just how evil mankind can be.
But on that day in Newfoundland, my new husband and I saw the flipside of that coin.
As unimaginable terror was being perpetrated on innocent people, we witnessed first hand the incredible spirit and kindness of strangers in times of crisis.
I dedicate this post with the warmest and most sincere thanks to our Canadian friends, the Russelll family, who helped show two English newlyweds the very best of human nature . . .
It wasn’t exactly the Hawaiian paradise we had planned after our 2001 wedding.
Hubby and I had been together for 10 years before deciding to go down the marriage route. We didn’t want anything overly fancy. Just a nice, simple affair with our close family and friends.
But we were going to all the way with out honeymoon. Vegas, San Francisco, Hawaii. Helicopter trips, fancy hotels – we were pushing the boat out.
We were onboard a United Airlines plane bound for Chicago on September 11 when terrorists struck the Twin Towers. Obviously, we never made it to America.
Instead we ended up on an altogether different adventure.
We were just two of the 6,500 airline passengers who disembarked at Gander International Airport in Newfoundland on that dreadful day.
Thirty eight planes were stacked up on that runway (a very bizarre sight!). And not one of us knew about events unfolding on the American mainland.
After 20 hours being left on the plane, we were anxious, hungry and desperate for information. People were starting to complain and tensions were starting to rise.
Then they hooked us up to the BBC World Service and we finally heard of the horror unfolding.
An eerie quiet swept through the plane like a thick woollen blanket being pulled across every head, as everyone tried to take in the enormity of what had happened.
You hear the phrase ‘stunned into silence’ all the time, but that very moment I truly understood those words.
Eventually we were herded off the plane, shown onto yellow school buses and driven to the small town of Gambo.
We were not allowed any of our luggage – all we had were the clothes we had travelled in and our hand baggage. We didn’t know it at the time but Gambo would become out ‘home’ for the next five days.
The 198 passengers of Flight 929 arrived at the town’s Salvation Army church and were greeted with open arms, provisions and comfort. These were ordinary folk who had dropped everything to help. Truly, they came without question or without complaint. They came in their droves, bringing food, provisions for babies (for there were many on the plane) and offering use of their phones, dishing our toiletries – anything we required.
They never questioned why or how much it would inconvenience their lives. They wanted to help in any way they could. Some just sat and chatted, some listened – a teenager even offered to take groups on walks of her town like some professional tour guide. Others took families with young children under their wing.
But our confusion, discomfort and disappointment would only pale by comparison when a television was hooked up at the church, and finally we all saw the first pictures of the terror attacks.
It was a hot September day in that church, but a cold chill touch every man, woman and child.
Later that night we soon realised we weren’t going anywhere fast and this church was our honeymoon hotel.
Families were given offices and rooms for a little privacy while the rest of us were bedding down on the pews.
And that’s when our saviours came.
Craig and Brenda Russell were a husband a wife with two children who lived nearby and had heard through the grapevine that there were newlyweds on the plane. They drove up to he church to offer their home as a refuge.
They greeted us with a hug and a smile and opened up their home and their hearts.
They gave us our own room, included us in family meals, drove us around, took us sightseeing and calmed our nerves.
In the five days we stayed with Craig and Brenda, and their two children Megan and Justin, we felt like family. We felt like royalty.
They would say they just did what their hearts told them to do and that it was nothing special. But how many others would take two total strangers into their family home and treat them like long lost friends?
I overheard one of the passengers on the plane, a woman from Chicago, telling her friend: “If we had landed in America I wonder if we would have had the same open-armed welcome?”
It wasn’t the honeymoon we planned. We lived in the same clothes for five days (the Russells drove us to Walmart to buy undies!), had been herded around like cattle and endured days of uncertainty, anxiety and frustration.
But it’s a story I will be very proud to tell my children and my grandchildren in years to come.
We still keep in touch with the Russells through email.
Our lives have moved on – I had two children of my own, of course – and the emails aren’t so frequent these days, but I would just like to tell our Canadian friends that we have never forgotten what you did for us and you will always always always have a place in our hearts and thoughts.
* This is a post originally published in the newspaper I worked on, back in 2008.
It’s still as relevant today – 9 years after the event – as it’s always been.