Ten years ago on 9/11, my husband, my then six year old son and I were starting the 8th day of a cruise in the Cayman Islands. We had made arrangements to visit Boatswain Beach the day before and I was stepping into the shower when the Today Show interrupted its broadcast to say a plane had hit the World Trade Center. Like the rest of the world watching, it first seemed to be an accident. By the time I had stepped out of the shower, the second plane had hit the south tower and there was no question what was happening. At breakfast, the passengers who had been restful and amiable travelers the day were quiet and tense with worry. The entire ship seemed engulfed in the panic of trying to get more information or trying to go home to loved ones in New York. The ship’s lounges with TVs were full and some were wailing for all the uncertainty of their family and loved ones back home. We decided it was best to get our son off the boat and try to make the best of the day.
Our tour arrived at the Boatswain Beach two hours later and for a moment it seemed we had managed to leave behind a horror that would keep developing regardless of our watching it unfold. But at the park, there was a small restaurant and inside a radio was broadcasting what was happening in the US. There were Canadians, Americans and Brits listening and struggling to understand. At first I thought I was misunderstanding the Spanish broadcast. The buildings had fallen? Air traffic was grounded and some still unaccounted for? The Pentagon had been hit, too? The White House evacuated? I translated as fast as I could but I realized the newscaster was starting to infuse some political views about why the US had been attacked and how the US had been caught off guard. I didn’t translate those remarks and the restaurant workers knew I was keeping those remarks to myself. I couldn’t bring myself to start assigning blame or to begin looking at conspiracies. Perhaps it was one small act of loyalty to my country or just one way to spare the travelers huddled around the radio from more grief. I wanted to stay focused on the human anguish—not the politics behind the horror. There would be plenty of time for that much later.
At dinner that night back on the ship the distress of the day was visible everywhere. But amid all the effort to serve passengers a meal the crew and staff came into the dining hall and with little fanfare began singing America the Beautiful and giving small American flags to everyone. This was an international crew of young Pakistani, Italian, Swede, Pilipino, Nigerian, Japanese, Jamaican staff—a rainbow of faces once again looking at the humanity of the moment, all sharing that same thought: what if that had happened to me or my family? How do we live to honor those who died? I’ve never forgotten that moment and how connected strangers can become in the face of . It made me think of ways in which people are more alike than they are different. People can and do come together regardless of ethnicity, gender, creed and age to seek solace and comfort in the face of unspeakable horror. The 9/11 memorials and survivor stories that surfaced in the days that followed magnified this common humanity and this is how I choose to remember 9/11.