I was in Europe, in my home in Germany, in a large city. My husband was at work and my young son already home from school. I was tired and had just lay down for a nap before my afternoon language class when my husband called telling me to turn the television on, something bad had happened. I did and saw the first pictures of the Towers. The first one had apparently just been hit and was burning. It was incredible and I couldn’t fully take in what I was looking at. I just prayed they’d be able to get the rest of the building evacuated.
My husband was terrified. He kept saying “This is bad. This is very, very bad. What does it mean?? What does it mean?? What will they do??”
I told him to calm down, wait and see. Don’t panic. Wait for the facts of the situation to come in before we evaluated what to do next, if there was anything to be done. As I said we lived in a large city at the time and the entire town was abuzz.
After a while I got ready and left for my language class that afternoon. When I boarded the bus an older woman recognized me as American and got up and gave me her seat. The whole ride to my class she smiled at me gently like she understood, and when she got off she patted my shoulder as she left. In a culture as formal as this one that almost never happens with people who don’t know one another. I was so touched I began crying. It was the first time. I think before then I had mostly still been in shock.
When I arrived at my class and was seated, my teacher, a young man from Cologne… he must’ve been in his early to mid 20’s, that’s the only way I can explain what he did next… immaturity and being out of his depth… he expressed surprise at my showing up at all. I looked him in the eye and said “Why wouldn’t I?” Americans don’t cringe from difficult situations and we aren’t a frightened people. We act. This is fact.
He then asked me if I’d ever visited the Twin Towers. When I said no he said “Well that’s a shame because you won’t get to NOW!” and laughed. He was the only one. No one else in the class thought it was funny *at all*.
This guy must’ve been very intimidated by me or Americans in general, because he totally put me on the spot by asking next what America’s next move was going to be and what I hoped would happen. Imagine sitting in a language class with people from literally all over the world. Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Poland, the Czech Republic, South American countries, all over Asia. Everyone was intensely focused on me looking for an answer I couldn’t give them. I told him I didn’t know, we’d have to see, but I hoped with all my heart America and its allies would find the people who did this and bring them to justice. I was confident that would happen.
My husband came home early and picked me up after class, and later we learned both towers had fallen and watched the heartbreaking replays and reports on television. We sat huddled together praying silently for the victims and their families. It was very quiet in the city when we went out to eat later that night. Our town was multi-cultural and people were very kind to each other. It was like in the face of this horrible tragedy they forgot their differences and just became people, a common humanity.
I’m a proud American but I don’t want to forget there were 61 other countries involved in the tragedy that day. There were 372 foreign nationals for a total of 12%. In my opinion this makes this terrible event an international happening that affected us all. The behavior of the people in my part of Europe reflected that feeling. We were very much one people that day and for the days to come. When I remember that it gives me faith that at our core we realize we are one.