It was months after 9/11 that I visited New York again. I felt awkward and expected to find a completely different city to the one I knew from former visits. But when I walked through the streets, nothing seemed to have changed. As an occasional visitor I didn’t connect to the heart of the city-that-never-sleeps like the ones who live, love and work there do. So I just saw the outside: business as usual.
I hesitated to visit Ground Zero but I decided to do so, if only to pay my respects to the people who died there and to all those who lost a loved one. But on seeing all the flowers, photographs and notes, I felt like an intruder. What happened on that 11 September hit the whole world, but to me this place felt like something only for New Yorkers.
I’ve just returned from a flight to Tokyo. I hadn’t been to Japan since the earthquake of last March. Again, I felt awkward to go there. What would be the stories of our Japanese passengers on board? And of our Japanese colleagues who are part of the crew on these flights?
And I did hear stories, but I knew I couldn’t feel the heart of this country, like I couldn’t feel it in New York. In the hotel, a young couple got married: they celebrated and looked happy, as did their family and friends. Business as usual. But I know their life isn’t the same as it was before that day in March.
As airline crew, we visit places where disasters take place and the world turns upside-down for their inhabitants. We hear about it in the news and the next day we fly there, to return to our safe base a few days later. Most of the time you just see the outside, which makes it tempting to ignore that there is an inside which I, as an outsider, don’t get to see.