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COLUMN: From celebration to contemplation during 9/11 birthday

While working on his birthday on Sept. 11, 2001 for New Brunswick's provincial daily, MidlandToday editor met passengers, crew aboard U.S.-bound planes diverted to Maritimes
A flower is placed in a name from the 9/11 Memorial in New York City.

Near the start of the century, I acquired a sudden numerical link.

Sure, like many, I have a lucky number (nine). However, for the past 19 years, that number bond has grown a lot stronger and, unfortunately, it's not one I can enjoy. In fact, like Number Six from The Prisoner television series, this numerical connection grows tiresome very quickly.

Nine-eleven, 9/11, whatever one wants to call it, these three numbers don't always turn one's mind to emergency services.

Thanks to solid media proliferation and regular references to 9/11, the numbers can rarely be mentioned anymore without thoughts turning to 2001's terrorist attacks in New York City and the resulting aftermath that morphed into the “War on Terrorism.”

For me, however, the numbers hold another significance. Whether I'm applying for a new passport or entering a password (that I guess I'll now have to change), these numbers are always present.

They have been with me my entire life; having been born at 3 a.m. on September 11 in a Montréal hospital.

Yes, that September 11th.

What was once a day I greeted often with happiness and increasingly trepidation as I felt myself getting older, has transformed for many into 'a day of infamy.'

While many of my last few birthdays have involved playing my favourite sport (tennis) and maybe a sail on Georgian Bay, ma fête 20 years ago was decidedly different, though not through any choice of my own.

My day began normally enough with an early-morning walk with my daughter Josée and our dog Tigger, whose birthday was also on September 11 (well at least that's what my wife and I figured since he was six months old when we rescued him from an eastern Ontario animal shelter on March 11, 1995).

Once back home, I had a coffee, perused the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal where I then toiled and got ready for work.

As I arrived at the newspaper, I chatted briefly with a photographer, who asked whether I had heard about the plane hitting the World Trade Centre just moments earlier.

'No,' I responded, thinking it was either a joke in the grand chicken-crossing-the-road genre or some kind of aviation miscue.

Minutes later, however, I entered an unusually silent newsroom and noticed all eyes glued to TV screens. Reporters and editors stood silently watching the dark image of a second jumbo jet slamming into the iconic Big Apple skyscraper.

As the tragedy began to unfold, news reports quickly shifted to how to deal with other planes still in the sky and whether they would be rerouted. The answer came soon enough as U.S.-bound carriers from around the world were dispatched to several Canadian locales, including Moncton and Halifax.

I immediately headed to Moncton's airport and hadn't been there more than an hour before the first diverted aircraft arrived.

Dutch pilot Pieter DeVries told me he was just two hours from his U.S. destination when he learned something was amiss.

“We were anxious and now feel very sorry for those who lost their lives,” DeVries recalled shortly after his Boeing 767 carrying 242 passengers touched down unexpectedly in New Brunswick.

But the initial anxiety and fear shifted over the course of the day for DeVries and the thousands of other passengers and crew diverted to the friendly city known as the Hub of the Maritimes. The scene for all eventually transformed into one of kindness and goodwill as volunteers and airport officials moved to warmly welcome their new guests.

A shuttle bus service was put in place to transport people to the Moncton Coliseum where Red Cross relief workers and other volunteers had already set up camp cots, large-screen TVs and feeding stations.

Is it selfish for me to be upset that the date of my birth has now become something else to so many different people? Absolutely. But I don't really consider September 11th my day any longer, which is likely a good thing.

Events like those occurring 20 years ago should show us all that celebrations, goodwill and positive feelings towards others shouldn't be reserved for one day or a few days a year.

Life can change quickly and although it may seem trite and clichéd, every day really is a gift; a moment to be cherished.

I know this to be true, having witnessed that gift being bestowed time and again 21 years ago; the day I turned 35.

Andrew Philips is editor of MidlandToday.

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Andrew Philips

About the Author: Andrew Philips

Editor Andrew Philips is a multiple award-winning journalist whose writing has appeared in some of the country‚Äôs most respected news outlets. Originally from Midland, Philips returned to the area from Québec City a decade ago.
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