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September 11, 2001

September 11, 2011

The best way I know to reflect on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 is to write about my personal experience.

My wife and I were living in the San Francisco Bay Area at the time. That particular day I was flying on United from SFO to Paris on business. I left the day before, September 10th, and was arriving into Paris when the first plane hit the towers in New York. No one at CDG knew of it yet; in fact, I heard nothing of it until arriving at my hotel, checking in, and getting to my room.

I had just reached the room when the hotel phone rang. Odd, I thought. When I answered, it was my wife, and she was crying. She simply said “Turn on the TV”. Then I saw what had happened.

The next few days were surreal. I guess that’s pretty much a shared experience for everyone, but especially for Americans wherever they might have been. This is what I wrote ten years ago about my time while stuck in France waiting for a flight back home:

While in France, I experienced tremendous compassion from everyone I encountered, no matter their nationality, religion, language, or creed.

The sense of common loss in Europe and elsewhere around the world was unbelievable, but also heartening, as I saw first hand just how united French people (and everyone else I came into contact with while in France) are with the United States. Europe and the entire world mourn with Americans. Two events in particular struck me as particularly poignant reminders that we are all in this together. 

The Queen ordered the American anthem played during the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, which is the only time I believe that anything other than the British anthem has ever been played in history. Knowing how strongly proud and patriotic the British people are, this really hit me as a testament to the strength of their support for all of us. The barriers of nationality are completely dissolved in this tragedy.

On a more personal note for me, a Parisian waiter one night the week of 11 September was guessing that my friend and I were British (possibly because of my facility with the French language). When I told the waiter we were from the United States, he almost cried. He shook our hands and told us how much he was thinking of the US and how upset he was. After dinner, he followed us all the way to the door and shook our hands again and told us we’d be very welcome to come back again. He was almost crying then too. That is how it was with most every person I met while I was in Paris.

I am very glad to be home, but I will never forget what I experienced in Paris in the long, terrible days after the 11th. We are all in this together. God bless all of us as we work harder than ever to make this world a better place for everyone, everywhere.

Only later did I really understand how desperate my wife must have been that morning when she called me. She knew I was flying United, and she knew United planes were among those hijacked. No one knew, at that point, how many flights had been targeted. So, in a very real sense, she didn’t know if I was dead or alive until she reached me at the hotel.

I will never forget that, either.

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