Monique Shephard: Spend your love on the important people

By September 9, 2021 No Comments

The morning of 9/11 in the US was the late hours of our 11 September – around 11pm, and I was already in bed. Pregnant with my fifth child, Eleanor, I had set my alarm and hoped to get plenty of sleep as I was due to be induced the next day (12 September, Australian time). When my husband, John, got up for work in the morning, he turned up the radio news in the ensuite as he shaved. He was saying that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Centre in New York. I couldn’t comprehend what I was hearing so, being both still sleepy and in a state of disbelief, I went down to the lounge-room and turned on the television news.

I was sitting in my pyjamas watching for ten minutes or so before John came down. I remember thinking it was like a seventies disaster movie. When faced with those images, the fact that it was real was unfathomable. It was shocking and incredible and riveting all at once.

All day as I made my final preparations for the birth, the TV remained on (unheard of in my house!). I constantly returned to watch the thick, black smoke billowing into that glorious blue sky; the second plane approaching then deliberately crashing into the North tower (what were the people in the tower thinking, seeing that approach?); the ash-covered New Yorkers fleeing, confusion and terror all over their faces, chased by that rolling cloud of debris – it was surreal. As I watched the firemen and emergency services rushing to what later became known as ‘ground zero’ I wondered ‘what could they possibly do?’ It was horrific.

Later, through the long slow process of inducing a baby (fun!), I absorbed those images repeated on every channel 24/7 (I recall that they changed the rules around this kind of media coverage following this event.) After Nelly was born, over and over for the next five days in hospital, I watched millions of pieces of paper flutter from the shattered windows, heard heartbreaking stories of shattered lives, of loved ones who shouldn’t have been there but were… or who should have been in the building, but weren’t because of some incredibly serendipitous event.

Cocooned as I was with my baby daughter, I was overwhelmed with sadness for those families. The poor nurses would come in and see me with tears streaming down my face and wonder what was wrong! I’d fill them in on some miracle or sorrow I’d just heard about. It was all we saw, heard, thought about and discussed with the other mothers all week. Nelly’s birth and this event will be forever enmeshed in my subconscious. Even after 20 years, this day is as clear as yesterday. I recently watched ‘Come From Away’, the musical, and it just brings it all back.

I can’t say that this event made me ‘hold my babies closer’. It did make me appreciate where I am: that my family are regional dwellers, far from high-rise buildings and political and philosophical disagreements. I do think, however, that it changed my attitude to life. Listening to the heartbreaking stories of people making calls to family or those who had just started work, or tragically happened to be in the buildings on that particular day, when they would not normally be had me considering how much fate intervenes in everyone’s life. Now I think, “If it’s your time, it’s your time.” Do the things. Be the person you want to be, where you want to be. Spend your love on the important people, whether that be family, friends or strangers. Kick to rest to the kerb.