Apologies to those who think this is going to be a 9/11 commemoration post, trouble was my life changed dramatically that day as well, and would have done so regardless of anything else going on in the world. The events of 9/11 are something I won’t forget, and will remember today, but as a result, I’ve underplayed my story to myself, burying it all and acting on that which I knew then had to happen, took a lot longer than it should have done, probably to my detriment. (So, yes, this is an extremely self-indulgent post. Sorry about that.)
Life was very different, and it was all about to change.
Actually, the change had already started. I was part of a Planning Group for a conference that took place every 5/6 years or so, for a very clearly defined group of people. It was one of those poisoned chalice kind of tasks. Being on the Planning Group was something no-one ever wanted to do; most people from the main group went to the conference out of duty, grumbled madly about the whole thing, and it was a three line whip event. It usually was a couple of years in the planning, and the only people who didn’t make life difficult for the Planning Group were the previous group! Who, on the whole, were still traumatised from their experience. That’s if they were still part of the whole group. It was a notorious “finisher off” assignment.
We had trouble from start to finish. I ended up being the only person who remained on the group the whole way through who had any idea of how it was all going to work – and who did any real work towards it. The ones with the “bright ideas” had the ideas, but left the work to me, others could have done but genuinely couldn’t fit anything else in – they had only been asked to do one task, and were suddenly drafted in for the duration! We had two “bright ideas” people, but one replaced the other, with six months to go, and turned the whole thing upside down. I’d handle the whole thing very differently now, but then I had no choice but to go with the changes and make them work. I think there was only one area of the conference I had no input into, and even then, if the person appointed to see to the music for the services suddenly felt he couldn’t cope with it, I’d be at the piano with little notice.
For the two years prior to this conference, I’d been using it as a marker to myself. “If I can get through this, then it’ll be OK.” or “Just let me get this finished, then I will implement this decision that has to be implemented.”
Except, it got more and more not OK. A second strand of something was going on alongside this conference planning; 2001 had been the year designated for me to do a test project, which I loved doing but wasn’t convinced would be anything more than a “Let Japes do this and get it out of her system” kind of idea, but I was also using this as a bench mark. “If, when this year is over, nothing changes and I have to go back, then I will implement this decision to change my life.”
By the morning of Monday 10th September, 2001, when I was sat at a table with a large room plan, allocating rooms at the conference centre, and the only other person of the planning group who’d been prepared to arrive early enough that day to see to this final task, I’d had more than enough. Over the previous six months the conference that had been more or less planned, bar these kinds of details, had changed out of all recognition. I remember looking at the plan and remarking, “You know, the only day that has remained consistent through out all this upheaval has been this Tuesday (11th September), “Our place in the world economy.””
It’s no use asking me now for any other details of what the conference was about, who else spoke, any other themes, but this is clearly fixed in my mind. As is the room allocation task – it was a nightmare! I think, possibly, all those attending knew each other too well. As did the two of us doing the room allocating! Eventually, we did it, decreed we’d done our best,( it was only for the next four nights, for pity’s sake,) grabbed a coffee, and got the plan to the front desk to find the first attendees had arrived – three hours earlier than they’d been told to, and were champing at the bit to get to rooms.
Relieved was the best description of me on that Tuesday. It was all coming together, the only complaints I’d dealt with were about things I could only pass on to the conference centre (why the hot water wasn’t working was their problem, not mine!!), I could sit at the back, on the “naughty” row with my peers, and let most of it just flow on…maybe even get something out of the talks and discussions. nothing could stop it now.
Except, of course, it did. The news broke early afternoon UK time. Things had to change – we couldn’t quite believe that the next thing we had to do was small group discussions* on the topic of “Our place in the world economy”… and we then worked to adapt what we’d planned to allow for response, grieving, prayer, taking in the news… and my own stuff, that had been bubbling away, receded. In comparison to the enormity of it all, my decision as to whether or not I remained a member of this whole group, whether or not I completely changed the course of my life was not important.
It took me another seven years to pluck up the courage to implement the change, as it became more and more apparent that the things that had bothered me during this conference planning process, and during it, were not just passing annoyances, they were all much, much deeper than that.
At the end of the conference, I was thanked for all my work, and it was acknowledged then that I had done far, far more than should have been asked or expected of me, and everyone should be in no doubt about that. I still have the little diptych I was given then, though not the card, it occasionally reminds me that sometimes, I can say “no” to workloads that are too big, that sometimes, seeing something through to the end is not always the right thing to do, that this was the time in my life when I knew what I should be doing and didn’t do it. That this particular time in my life was the real turning point, not the other significant time four years after this… but the events of 2005 are for another time.
* As well as re-planning, I also spent the afternoon free time slot making sure as many people knew what was going on as possible. I was sending people to the one TV we could see, or to radios. One person I told, one of my close friends in this group, I knew had just woken up from a deep sleep, (he’d not been well recently, and had been very clear he was using free time to sleep, and not be sociable,) and was just nodding his head to keep me happy. “He’s not taken a word of that in!” I thought, “I’ll catch him later and check he’s got it.” Again, I have no idea what we talked about, other than we were all stunned by the sheer co-incidence of the day’s theme, and even more stunned when I commented on the fact it was the one day that hadn’t changed in the whole of the upheavals of the planning. It had been decided not to have Evening Prayer, as planned, in our small groups as we’d finished talking, but in our main meeting room all together, in solidarity with those who had died in their workplace. We then had another whole group plenary after we’d finished praying.
Then, we went to supper… where my friend came and knelt by my chair and said “I owe you a huge, huge apology.” “Why?” asked yours truly. “I thought you’d come up with a creative idea for us to get going in our small group discussions, and had been sent round to tell us this plot outline, I know you’re really good at thinking up good ideas for these kind of things. So, I really didn’t believe you, but thought I’d just play along, since everyone else seemed to be doing so without grumbling .”
“Um, didn’t you realise by the time the discussion got going in your group that this was for real – I knew you’d not taken in what I’d said and I was planning to come back and ask, but haven’t had time…”
“No, I didn’t believe it until we did Evening Prayer! And even then, I was not sure….” Cue much abject grovelling!!
Disclaimer 1: I do have a vivid imagination, I do have a reputation amongst those who know me in the right context for thinking outside boxes to get results, but never, ever in my wildest imagination would I have dreamed up the events of 9/11.
Disclaimer 2: I could’ve been in the music group at church this morning, but couldn’t cope with singing a song with a chorus of “The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous run into it, and we are saved.” today. So, I stayed home instead.