Wednesday, September 11, 2019

My 9/11 Story

My 9/11 story is pretty typical and nothing special, but I remember every moment of it as if it was stamped on my mind.

I was 25 years old at the time and had just returned about a month before 9/11 from a six week trip with my wife traveling throughout Greece and Turkey. While in Constantinople, as my wife and I were walking around one evening, we saw a big mosque up on a hill that I wanted to check out, so we went in to take a look. The imam saw us, a young man with a kind smile, he came up to us, asked who we were and where we were from, and when he found out we were Greek-Americans, he asked us to have tea with him, as he was curious about us and had a bunch of questions, and thus began a nearly three hour conversation that I later wrote down and will share one day. Among the things I asked him was what he thought, as a Muslim imam, about Islamic terrorism, and people like Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Remember, this was about a month before 9/11. He replied that they were not Muslims and do not represent true Islam, that they belong to a radical form of Islam and that most Muslims despise them. I was glad and must say a little relieved to hear his response.

On 9/11 itself I was at the Holy Cross School of Theology in Brookline, having just returned to Boston to continue my seminary studies after taking three years off to go live in Charlotte, North Carolina. I had a 9:00am Church History class that morning at Maliotis Cultural Center. When I arrived I took my seat, the students poured in, and the professor wasn't there yet, running about five minutes late. Suddenly one of the seminarians came in and said that one of the Twin Towers was just hit by a plane. We then began asking questions, curious as to what happened. The only question I asked was whether or not the building collapsed. Everyone in the class laughed when I asked that, since, as one student put it, "a plane can't bring down one of those buildings; you know how huge they are?" Then the professor walked in, apologized for being late, and someone informed him of what happened in New York. He was surprised and tried to start teaching, but he couldn't get his thoughts together. He was shocked and almost broke down and thought it was best that we don't have class that day, so he dismissed us. I went back to my apartment on campus, turned on my television, and shortly after saw live footage of the second tower hit by a plane. This is when I knew it was no accident, but it was done on purpose.

My wife had class that morning and she walked in after the second tower was hit. We watched on TV what was happening together. Then the towers began to fall. Chaos ensued. My wife cried. I was more shocked and waiting for more information, hoping as few people as possible were in the towers at the time, since it was still early morning. With this began the media speculation as to what happened and what was going on. Then the Pentagon was hit by a plane and another plane went down in Pennsylvania. Reports on TV were completely confused, and caused a panic throughout the country, justifiably so. Then they reported that planes that were involved in the terror attack came out of Boston's Logan Airport, which was just a few miles from where we lived. My mother called and told us to come to her house in Canton (30 min. away) and not stay so close to the city, since it seemed we were at war and it started out of Boston. We decided to leave and see what happens for a few hours. As we drove I turned on the Howard Stern Show on the radio, and honestly it was the best coverage of what took place that morning. In fact, Howard Stern won an award for that show, because it perfectly captured the confusion and emotion of the day live, especially from a New Yorkers perspective, and for a few years after I would go back and listen to that show on the 9/11 anniversary.

The rest of the day I like most people just watched TV and tried to make sense of what happened. This continued for a few days as reports became more clear. And this was how I experienced 9/11. I mostly recall the chaos, the confusion and the shock, and I knew that the United States would never be the same again.