\"Watching

Watching from afar: The RTE broadcast in Ireland on September 11, 2001

An American in Ireland: Never so far from home as on Sept. 11, 2001

\"Watching

Watching from afar: The RTE broadcast in Ireland on September 11, 2001

Listen to Niall O'Dowd speak about "Threats of attacks on 9/11 anniversary" on RTE's "Morning Ireland"

The weather is perfect today. Just like it was then. We all remember the absolutely perfect weather in New York eight years ago, but it was almost exactly the same here.

Eight years is a long time. Just trying to think how much has happened makes my head spin. Children growing up, family members dying, career changes - so much. Then there's the wider world: wars, natural disasters, economic collapses, elections and new governments. It's actually been a good while.

Yet, when I see the date on a milk carton or an ad for an upcoming soccer game or on my computer screen memories flood in and it's as if everything happened only yesterday. Suddenly eight years seems like a blip.

There is a September 11 season on television here, especially on Britain's Channel 4. I watch all the documentaries and wonder afterwards what motivates me to watch them. I just can't help it. Still trying to understand, I suppose.

Everyone has their own memories. What I remember most clearly are the feelings: confused, sick, angry, but more than anything I remember feeling like I wasn't where I should have been. On the evening of September 11 I went out into my backyard and looked up into a beautiful sunset, into the west, roughly towards NY and wondered to myself, "What on Earth am I doing 3,000 miles away?"

That feeling came over me slowly. Wasn't there initially. I was in an office in Dublin when the news first came through that a plane had crashed into one of the twin towers. I assumed it was a small single-engine plane and tried to focus on my job, but of course any news story about New York always distracted me. Then, in what has now merged into a time span of seconds I learned that it was a passenger jet and that a second plane had just struck the second tower.

A sort of fog came over me from that moment. Just like everyone else around the world, the people in the office sat transfixed, watching the television. I remember my wife calling to talk about it and saying that she'd heard the Pentagon had been hit too. I didn't believe her. That would have been just too fantastic a tale. I was sure it was just another rumor. But, two minutes later the station we had on reported the Pentagon attack. My God!

I never imagined the World Trade Center buildings would fall, but once the first did it seemed inevitable the second would too. And when that finally happened, I went back to my desk and sat down for a few minutes then grabbed my stuff and left. I didn't say a word to anyone. Must have been around 4:00. No one was working.

That's when it started. I walked down the street to the train station, up to the platform and onto the train feeling increasingly like an alien in a city I'd lived in for 10 years. I stared blankly around me on the train home, but I felt like a gulf was opening between me and the others around me and everyone else in Dublin.

I was glad when I got home. My wife understood exactly what was going through my mind. I couldn't take off the television at home, but I didn't want the children to watch. It was too late, of course. They'd already seen too much because RTE preempted their children's programming with live scenes from New York. Everyone was too shocked to think rationally.

The sense of alienation hardened over the weeks and months that followed. I didn't want to talk to people, even friends. Couldn't avoid them all, unfortunately. Lots of conversations ended with me being really angry.

Now so much time has passed that the sense of alienation has faded, although it hasn't completely gone away. I doubt it ever will. I took New York - America - for granted before September 11. That will never happen again and it's that sense that keeps me apart from most people here.

Originally published in September 11, 2009

Listen to Niall O'Dowd speak about "Threats of attacks on 9/11 anniversary" on RTE's "Morning Ireland"

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