Importance of Friendship

By Chisholm, Kate | The Spectator, September 16, 2006 | Go to article overview

Importance of Friendship


Chisholm, Kate, The Spectator


We've seen those startling pictures from 9/11 so often that I wondered what The Archive Hour: New York Reflections Five Years On (Radio Four, Saturday) could possibly add in memoriam to those who died on that horrific day. But when you're just listening to voices, with nothing to distract you, you can focus more on what is being said; you also have space in the back of your mind to question what you are being told. The woman, for instance, in the South Tower (hit 17 minutes after the North Tower) who ignored the intercom instruction to remain seated at her workstation.

She could see the flames leaping into the sky, so close by, just beyond the window, and knew she must get out. She went looking for the stairs -- the only time she had used them before was on a very windy day when the lifts had been swaying in the breeze (why would anyone, I thought, have ventured back into the building after such a frightening experience? ). It took her 45 minutes to reach the bottom, and yet she and all the other people in the stairwell remained very calm, even after feeling their building shudder -- and not being able to see what that meant.

Stephen Evans, the BBC reporter who had been on the ground floor of the World Trade Center at the time, wondered why there had not been a stampede, why no one had panicked. She could not say.

Perhaps it was because to spend your working week in such a freakish building required an unusual degree of sangfroid?

(When I first worked at Canary Wharf I could not walk from one side of the office to the other without sitting down; and my desk was only on the 12th floor. ) Evans also spoke to Howard Lutnick, the chairman of Cantor Fitzgerald, the investment firm which had occupied floors 101 to 105 of the North Tower. He was late arriving because he had taken his son to school on his first day, and was the only member of his entire office to survive -- 658 employees. Most people, he says now, 'undervalue the relationships they have at work'.

It was the friendships that developed between the political prisoners on Robben Island, five miles out to sea from Cape Town, which sustained them and ensured that they can look back now on that dismal, grey concrete jail as 'a place of colour'. Sue MacGregor met five of them in The Reunion (Radio Four, Sunday), and what was remarkable about their conversation were the ripples of laughter that eddied between them as they talked, and their utter lack of bile. …

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