Where Were You?

Posted: July 9, 2008 in Political Wrangling
Tags: , , , , , ,

It’s been three years since the London bombings. I was on holiday at Mount Hotham when the story broke, sitting in the lounge of a friend’s ski lodge. We’d been playing a communal round of Leggo Star Wars not long before, and as repeat images of a flaming double-decker flashed over the screen, we were all of us pinned to our seats, stunned. Strange to think that since then, I’ve changed partners, moved states and married – hardly insignificant developments – but the bombings still feel recent. Like last week. 

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was a Year 10 student in NSW. As I did every morning, I wandered upstairs and through my parents’ bedroom to the ensuite shower, still too groggy to really hear the radio news which, as always, was playing. When I reached the threshold of the bathroom, mum raised a hand for me to stop. There was a strange look on her face.

‘Something terrible has happened in the world,’ she said. And on cue, the radio news suddenly became intelligible English. We listened, my parents and I, in the predawn dark – these were my commuting days, and we got up early. After a moment, mum flipped on the ancient TV at the foot of the bed, and we watched the towers of the World Trade Centre fall and burn on a shaky handheld camera, listening as tourists screamed in the background.

At school that day, we had history. Our entire class begged the teacher to let us watch George Bush’s address; she agreed, and deputies were sent to ask the library staff to turn on the TV in our classroom. We watched, silently, until the bell rang halfway through; and then we lingered to hear. For the rest of the week, I speculated with all the vehemence of youthful cynicism as to why, now, we were inevitably destined for war, and for months after, the sound of planes overhead became uniquely noticeable, where before I’d never listened.

When Princess Diana died, I was eleven and entirely uninterested. The night of her funeral, my mother made me watch for at least five minutes. It was history in the making, she said, and I’d need to be able to say I’d seen it, even if I didn’t care. Later, I watched her cut out the day’s newspaper articles on the event and fold them in the bottom drawer of the bureau in her study. Years later, I rediscovered the clippings, but was confused by the date. Had I really been that young? Could I really remember when Harry and William were children? It didn’t seem possible, but for the first time, I was grateful that mum had made me watch.

Time passes oddly in the world. So much happens so quickly in our private lives, but events on the world scale continue to feel recent for years after they’ve been and gone. Even when they’re not in the daily media, were someone to mention them, it would be disorienting to realise how long ago some of them happened. 2005 feels like yesterday, until you think how much has happened to you in three years. 2001 sounds like a distant country (or a space odyssey). And I wonder: has it always been this way? Have human beings always had such a disconnect between the timeline of our private lives, and the timeline of politics? Or is this something new?

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