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9/11 Recollections: Compassion Around the World

9/11 Recollections: Compassion Around the World

“Is anyone here American?” The winery owner burst into the room, breathless and in a panic.

I raised my hand, the lone American. Two days earlier I had run the Bordeaux Marathon, and as a post-race treat, was taking a workshop at one of the wineries in the area.

“Planes are falling out of the sky in New York City,” he said. “My daughter and son-in-law live there and I can’t reach them.”

Did we hear him correctly? Planes falling out of the sky? Perhaps he’d had too much wine? Or perhaps there was something lost in translation? Confused and not really sure what to make of the interruption, we stayed for the final hour of class.

When we arrived back at the hotel, the manager was standing in the doorway. “Are either of you American?” This was becoming strangely familiar. “I’m American,” I replied.

“I am so sorry,” he said. “You need to go upstairs, sit down and turn on the television.” Confusion turned to fear and concern.

The scenes on TV were surreal. It just didn’t make sense. The sky was so blue. And the sun was shining so brightly. It looked like it had started out as such a happy, serene morning….

We sat for ages, glued to the screen. And as we watched the events unfold – it was 5:30 p.m. in France and 9:30 a.m. in New York City – the magnitude of what was happening started to sink in.

Only months before we had celebrated my birthday at Windows on the World, the restaurant on the 107th floor of the North Tower. What had seemed spectacular for it’s views high above NYC, now seemed incredibly frightening. And it was gone.

Seeing the horrible images, I remember feeling as though I had a knot in my stomach and a heavy weight on my chest. And in all my years of living abroad, I had never felt so far from home.

Eventually, we forced ourselves to leave the hotel room and go find a late dinner. All of the restaurants we walked by had their TVs on, and the staff and diners were sitting together, silently watching. We said hardly anything to each other during our meal, and we ate even less than we spoke.

And then a strange and lovely thing happened – at our hotel, in restaurants, in taxis – everywhere we went over the next few days: Everyone, I mean everyone, offered condolences on the tragedy and loss in the United States.

“I hope that your family and friends are safe,” said the man at the hotel desk as we were leaving. Then at the airline counter in Bordeaux as I presented my passport for check-in, “Oh, you are an American,” the woman said, “I am so very sorry…I hope that your family and friends are alright.”

Tears welled up in my eyes. “Yes,” I said. “Thank you. My family and friends are good.” I silently thanked her for her kindness and compassion.

When I checked in at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, deja vu. “Oh, you’re American. I am so sorry. Are your family and friends…are they o.k?” “They are fine,” I said. “None of them were there. Thank you though…” and my voice trailed off as I fought back tears.

This happened over and over again throughout the next week when I was back home in Dublin, Ireland. I had been living there long enough that I had acquired more of an Irish accent and dialect than an American or Californian one. But any time I opened my mouth and my American-ness was detected, I was immediately offered consolation and was asked about the well-being of my family and friends.

Around the corner from our house, the American Embassy started a book of condolences to send to The White House. There was a line early in the morning on my way to work. There was a line at 2am, when I passed by on the way home from the pub (yes, that was my life back then.) In the middle of the afternoon, more lines. This went on for several weeks. People living in Ireland and visitors from other countries waited for hours to sign the book and share their thoughts, their hearts, with those in the United States. Every time I walked by, my eyes welled up with tears. Sometimes I even cried.

Never before in my life – and rarely since then – have complete strangers offered up so much love and genuine kindness. To this day, I am still so touched by the outpouring of compassion, empathy and support. It was beautiful. And it was global.

This post is part of a collective tribute for September 11th. Click here for more Care2 stories on 9/11.

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Robyn Hessinger

Robyn Hessinger was formerly Care2’s Editor-In-Chief. As a veggie-loving yogini and Reiki Master/Teacher, Robyn is passionate about holistic health and wellness, green living, and animal advocacy. She believes that everyone can make a difference.

70 comments

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9:49AM PDT on Sep 14, 2011

THANKS.

11:06PM PDT on Sep 13, 2011

Someone should feel the pain and sorrows of the millions that died and are dying as a result of the Bush retributional wars. If i am sensitive to the pain of Americans (and i am) i should also be sensitive to the sufferings of millions who have lost their families, their children, their spouses, their homes and have had insult added to injury by having been called terrorists as well.

And without also being insensitive to the American tragedy, it is imprudent to assume that the event's tragedy was shared by the whole world. A vast population of the world has no access to cable TV and news channels (think Africa, Afghanistan, remote China and India and many more). Another vast number of people of this planet couldn't afford to care even if they wanted to because they had to fight for their very life for daily bread (think famine striken countries). So an American tragedy is not a global tragedy and it is insulting to assume so.

however it is also vain to assume that everyone in the world was touched by the American loss. But even assuming so, are Americans also touched by the loss of lives their wars have caused? could the Americans possibly console mothers who have lost their babies, daughters that have been raped, husband arrested in the middle of the night never to be seen again, mothers and wives raped and killed in front of children, and homes destroyed.

When America exhibits such lack of sympathy and empathy, why should it expect any itself?

10:34AM PDT on Sep 13, 2011

It was lovely and global, but I still wish it hadn't been answered with President Bush's search for the ever elusive WMDs and retributional wars.

6:38AM PDT on Sep 13, 2011

True this was a devastating event. I won't implicate some particular group responsible for it either. But once let us take a moment to consider something that may be bigger and better than all of us. Americans and peoples from all nationalities died on that fateful day, so the grief should rightly be shared by the entire world and the loss should be considered global, not just American. But even if someone did not lose a friend or relative in the 9/11 attacks, we are all connected through the bond of humanity. And therefore there is where my appeal lies.

America started a war in 3 countries as a direct consequence of the 9/11 attacks. in ten years How many people do you think were bombed, attacked, arrested, shot, harrassed, murdered, raped, orphaned, widowed, threatened, robbed and killed? i dont think a true figure would ever be reached. but it would be safe to say they were in the millions.

They couldn't all be terrorists. thats common sense. But what they were and are, are our brethren humans. They feel pain as much as you, they love their families as much as you, they love liberty as much as you, they are in a sense just like you.

How many of them would need to continue to die as a consequence of war? how many children should continue to wait for their father or mother to come back, or widows for their spouses.

America has set a bad precedant when it was in power. Would you like some super power of the future to come bomb your house & family to oblivion?

6:37AM PDT on Sep 13, 2011

Sure Everyone is having fun now because the war is taking place elsewhere. some place far off from where the cries of children and widowed women, the shrieks of raped girls, the wimpers of kidnapped orphaned children to be sold as sex slaves in the meat markets of Europe and US and indeed the world dont reach your ears.

The bombs are raging on over some desert dwelling, barefoot, naked, illiterate, half civilised people. All the better if the war is far off and not near home. At least your family, loved ones & your children and pets are safe.

So who cares right? even if you lose a bit of sleep over it when you get down to thinking sometime, you are reminded that these muslims are a plague and a threat to everything good and civilised. If left unchecked they may bring the world back to the dark ages. they are barbaric and so they should be killed without remorse, without pity, without consequence. Or perhaps you may think that the world is over populated and this killing will set the clock back a bit.

But Powers have risen and fallen throughout history. America has risen now and seems it is set to fall already with the crises it has run itself into. Consider that another nation rises to power, maybe even muslims and they find similar reasons such as yours to come and bomb you back to oblivion and similarly be deaf, dumb and blind to the pleas and cries of your loved ones. Is that the future you want to see for your children? Coz thats the standard you have set.

6:07AM PDT on Sep 13, 2011

People seem to respond with kindness in tragedies like9/11

12:15AM PDT on Sep 13, 2011

Thanks for the info. Very interesting.

8:34AM PDT on Sep 12, 2011

Thank you for sharing and God bless those who showed such compassion in such dark days.

5:48AM PDT on Sep 12, 2011

Sorry for the double comment.

5:48AM PDT on Sep 12, 2011

thank you

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