By Robert Arthur Crane
I was a newly wed on September 11th. After five years in Chicago, I returned to France on September 6th, 2001. As I had free time before beginning my new job, my wife – an Anglican woman priest – and I decided to have a short honeymoon by the Mediterranean. So we drove south from Paris, stopping to visit friends in Saône et Loire on the way.
Nearing the coast, we took back roads to have a better view of the countryside. Finally, we came over a last rise and were presented with a 180 degree view of the Mediterranean. Spectacular! As it was about noon, we picniced and enjoyed the scenery. After lunch, we wound our way down the slope to Bandol where we bought some of the famous wine.
However, duty called back in Paris. So, again taking back roads, we wended our way north. Evening found us near the village of Castillon in the foothills of the Alps. The only hotel in town had been besieged by a group of bicycling tourists. We were lucky to get the last room in the hotel. While my wife unpacked, I went back to the reception desk and found a guest and the owner in a very animated conversation about a plane crashing into a skyscraper.
“You are talking about a horror film. Right?” I said.
“No, it’s real! Go watch on your room television”, they shot back.
I quickly returned to our room and turned on the TV. We had a close friend at Goldman Sachs who should have been in the Twin Towers that day. Soon, the CEO of Goldman was interviewed. He said “All of our personnel is safe and accounted for”. We were relieved for our friend.
The television commentator was under the impression that all in the World Trade Center were Americans. We decided to go to the village church to pray for our fellow citizens. We were alone in the church and indeed in the streets as well as everyone was watching the shocking events in New York on television.
We had been praying for about twenty minutes when a stout, elderly woman came in the back and shouted “You will have to leave. I need to lock the church.” I went to the lady in her eighties and explained that we were praying for our fellow Americans trapped in the towers. She took me in her hefty arms and said “Today, Sir, we are all Americans”. This same sentance was the headline in “Le Monde” the next morning. She then prayed with us for another twenty minutes but then sighed, saying “I really must lock the church”.
The next morning my wife woke me early as she had to quickly return to the American Cathedral in Paris where she was the new Canon. It took us two days to arrive there by car. When we finally came to the Cathedral, the large entranceway was blocked by hundreds of bouquets of flowers sent as condolences by Frenchmen. We had to fray our way through the flowers to get in.
Services were quickly created to honor the dead in the Twin Towers and were held rapidly thereafter. We had learned there were people of many different nationalities killed in the attack. The bells tolled for each country as it name was read. Political figures and Ambassadors attended the service as well as parishioners and Americans trapped in Paris by the canceling of all flights to the United States.
The day after our arrival at the Cathedral a letter from a nine-year-old French girl was delivered to the Cathedral. The letter was addressed to The President of the United States. As President Bush was not in the Cathedral, we opened the letter. The young lady declared in her letter that given that many American children had become orphans after 9/11, she and her family were offering to adopt one such child. Her letter was counter signed by her younger brother, her mother, the maid, and her father who added a comment: “This is a sincere offer”.
We forwarded the letter to the American Embassy which sent it on to the White House. This is how I perceived 9/11.
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