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Why I Celebrate September 11th

We all remember where we were this day ten years ago. We know where we were when we first heard. We know where we were when we first saw the pictures streaming out of New York. We remember how we felt and what our first thoughts were. We remember. We can never forget.

Like the rest of the world, I remember where I was. I was sitting in our living room in Singapore.

My (then) husband had gone to the pub after work. I was alone – though not quite alone, as my eldest daughter was busy gestating and I was sure I could feel her spirit around me all the time.

I was watching my friend and colleague, Lawrence Chau, as he presented his new game show on telly. Game shows aren’t my thing, but supporting my friends is, so I had the television on. Just after 9pm (Singapore is 12 hours ahead of New York), across the bottom of the screen, a ticker-tape news flash informed me that a plane had flown into one of the Twin Towers. Further information was on the other channel. I flicked.

I never did get back to watching Lozzy’s game show.

I reached for the phone and dialled my husband’s number. There was something surreal about the pictures I was seeing. I’d been to New York – to the Towers themselves – in July. My husband had scoffed at my tourist’s desire to go inside them, but I had insisted. I was a tourist and – for all his desire to think of himself as a local,  because he’d worked there (illegally) a few years earlier – so was he.

Sridhar didn’t answer his phone on the first ring. Or the second. He didn’t always answer his phone to me when he was out drinking.  It was a case of fifth time lucky. When we spoke, I told Sridhar that a plane had flown into the World Trade Centre. He derided my worried tone.

‘It’s just a light plane, I’m sure. Stop getting so excited.’

‘I think it’s more than that, Sridhar, I’m watching it now, it’s pretty terrible.’

‘Pretty terrible’ turned out to be the understatement of the year. The pictures were horror-filled, the news was soul-wringing and the pain and anguish being suffered by New York and her denizens was soon to become obvious.

In the following days, our inbox filled with messages from friends in New York, detailing where they were and how they were coping. Not well, on the whole. One of Sridhar’s friends worked at the WTC, but had missed his train because he’d spent an extra ten minutes playing with his baby. He had known he’d be late for work, but the giggles of his six-month old son had been too much for him to resist. Thank God they were.

For my part, I worried about the world my baby would be born into. All I’d ever wanted was to be a mother, but now I wondered if it was the right time to be bringing a child into the world. What kind of world would there be for her to inherit? Would there be a world for her to inherit at all? Was my desire to be a mother nothing but selfishness, after all?

When reading about the World Trade Centre, I realised that my own history had, in a very slight way, parallels with the history of the WTC: The towers had opened when my mother was expecting me – her first daughter. They were felled, 28 years later, when I was expecting my first daughter.

Ishthara was born 10 weeks early, ignominiously, in a toilet in India.  Her chances of survival were slim. I was told not to get too attached to the tiny scrap of humanity that was the embodiment of every hope I’d ever hoped. Pointless instruction, I think.

On September 11th, 2002, when my baby was nearly six months old, I was told that she had passed the ‘critical’ stage. I could never expect her to be the same as other children her age, I could expect her to always be smaller than her peers, I could expect her to be developmentally delayed, and to be slightly retarded. But, finally, I could expect her to live.

My Isha has lived. She has thrived. With a mother’s heart, I see that she is not the same as other children her age – but that’s not a bad thing. She’s funny and out-going and vivacious and kind and thoughtful and determined and she amazes me on a daily basis. She is petite and fine-boned, but of ‘average’ height for an Indian girl child her age. Ishthara is far from developmentally delayed, having been assessed as ‘Gifted’ earlier this year and – with every passing day – she brings more joy to me and those with whom she comes in contact.

September 11th has, since 2002, been a special day of celebration in our house. Today is no different. My little girl has requested we go to Carton House for their wedding fair. She wants to look at pretty dresses and jewellery and dressed tables and heaven knows what else. I will remind her that is she made for more than just marriage and smile as she gasps and sketches and touches fabric and offers her own opinions and expresses excitement.

Today, as I do every September 11th, I will offer special prayers; prayers in the memory of those who perished as the victims of murder on this day in 2011 – and their families. I will also offer special prayers of thanks for the blessings I received on September 11th, 2002.

In another parallel with the WTC, I will celebrate much of what Ishthara and New York have in common; resiliance, determination, the ability to astound, the ability to exceed expectations, the ability to come back from disaster.

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