Every year at this time I send a special card to the super of my old apartment block on West 57th Street. I used to send a bunch of stargazer lilies too but his wife, Eleanor, died last November so now there is just him. According to Malcolm, Eleanor died of a broken heart. She never got over the death of her youngest son, Timmy, who was at work on the 106th floor of the North Tower at 8:46 am on that fateful day, ten years ago.
At that precise moment, I was standing at the counter of a printer’s shop, waiting to pick up some leaflets, only it was lunchtime in London. I remember the silence of the store suddenly being shattered as a woman careened through the door, screaming, “A plane’s just flown into the World Trade Center!”
I left my leaflets where they were and in a daze headed for home, my mind churning with the possibility that the plane might be the one carrying my husband to England. He was due to have left JFK at 8:10 that morning. He was flying to London on American Airlines, flight 143.
When I arrived at the house, my son Alex was standing in front of the television, watching footage of the smoke pouring from the North Tower. Before I had time to take off my jacket the second plane crashed into the South Tower.
I wrote an account of that day in my journal, and sometimes I go back to it to remind myself how fragile our tenure on life is, and how love truly is the most important thing. When you believe you have lost someone you love dearly, there is no greater anguish.
For five long hours we were in limbo. The phone rang constantly - friends and family wanting to know if we were all right, hardly daring to ask if my husband, Jerry, was with us. As dusk fell, I picked up the phone and discovered I had a message.
“I’m fine, darling. I’m on Long Island. I don’t know when I’ll be able to get through again but don’t worry.”
The message had been left at around 10 in the morning, New York time, just after Jerry, along with the rest of the passengers on AA 143, had been ordered to disembark.
Later, he was to tell me, he and the passenger next to him had watched the smoke issuing from Lower Manhattan and had tried to figure out what it could be. They were still at the gate, although they should have been airborne 40 minutes earlier. According the captain there was a minor technical fault... something of an understatement as I found out later.
All right, I know what you’re thinking. If I’m such a darn good astrologer how come I didn’t know all this in advance? Well, I did and I didn’t.
In the summer of 2001, I was working on my forecasts and doing my best to put a positive spin on a difficult configuration - an opposition between Saturn and Pluto, a troublesome pairing that tends to crop up at times of war and conflict of one sort or another.
This aspect was exact on 6 August, but remained in play until early to mid-September. More to the point, this opposition was slap on the ascendant-descendant axis of the US chart. So, when the subject of Jerry’s flight across the pond came up, I suggested we avoid this period.
Have you ever tried telling a Gemini not to do anything? There are a thousand arguments as to why he’s right and you’re misinformed. Reluctantly, I agreed to a flight being booked for 11 September, the very edge of my margin of safety.
Which brings me to the whole business of prediction. While alarm bells were sounding, and I feared a major conflict breaking out, I had no idea that passenger jets would be hijacked and flown into iconic buildings. And even if I had, would anyone have listened to me?
That date of 6 August turned out to be of huge significance in the story of 9/11 because it was the day the now infamous intelligence briefing “Bin Ladin [sic] Determined to Strike in US” was sent to the Bush administration and completely ignored. If you’re going to dismiss the reports of your own intelligence service, you’re certainly going to discount those of an astrologer.
The portents of great events are always “written in the stars” but in hindsight. Not only is there an impossible amount of information an astrologer must sift through to get an event bang on the mark, but there is clearly some two-way traffic going on. By which I mean, we humans contribute to the unfolding of our fate: an action taken here, and a consequence is averted; make a decision there, and we head straight into the line of fire.
Our level of consciousness dictates our choices. And, of course, it is the difficult events in life that shape us so we have neither the right nor the power to knowingly change our destiny.
It took almost a week for Jerry to be able to pick up his bags from JFK and return to the city. In the end, he never flew to England at all. I flew to New York. It was there I discovered just how close Jerry had come to being among that terrible number.
One Saturday in mid-October, I stumbled upon an article in the New York Times headed, “More Planes Considered to Be Targets on 9/11”. Sure enough, listed there was AA 143, Jerry’s plane. Apparently, the flight had been initially delayed by a minor technical fault, but a little after 8:45 am, a Middle Eastern passenger in business class asked to leave the plane. The captain gave his permission. Ten minutes later, another Middle Eastern male in business class made the same request. However, it was denied since a take-off slot had appeared. There followed something of an ‘incident’. The captain was in the process of calling for security when the signal for all passengers to disembark was given. Later, box cutters were found on board.
By trying to steer my husband out of the jaws of danger I had unwittingly sent him straight into them. But it was not his moment to go.
It was, in fact, the second time that I had twiddled with the knobs of fate and been sharply reprimanded. I am now far more fatalistic, far more accepting of the divine plan.
My story of 9/11 had a happy, albeit salutary, ending; others were not so fortunate, a factor I am reminded of as I watch the many powerfully evocative programmes currently on television retelling the events of that day. What stands out, and what I remember most about 9/11, were the super-human actions of so many, and the compassion and unity those events inspired - not just in New York, Washington, and above the fields of Pennsylvania, but the way the world stood behind the United States in its most tragic hour.
In little individual acts of valour we saw the best of humanity.
Would we change those events? The obvious response is, yes. Yet 9/11 was ultimately America’s wake-up call; it realized it was no longer invincible. The attacks may not have brought the country to its knees but it was humbled, and America is stronger now because of them. Yet while we remember all 2,974 people killed on 11 September, 2001 we should not forget the 120,000 who have died as a result in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In ten years people’s lives have moved on but for those who lost loved ones that day there is a gap the size of the crater left by the Twin Towers which can never be filled.
After Timmy’s death, Eleanor could not bring herself to go to Ground Zero. Somehow confronting the evidence of what was lost would have torn away the thin coating protecting her heart. Malcolm will be there on Sunday, however. A small pilgrimage, along with thousands of others, to share in the memory of that day and remember a son who will never come home.