On September 11, 2001, I was in Barcelona, Spain studying at ESADE as part of a graduate exchange program through Georgetown University. It was a Catalonian holiday in Barcelona. My friend and I were walking through a park and had stopped to buy a drink from a street vendor. The vendor asked us if we were from the U.S. When we confirmed, she began to speak so frantically that we couldn’t understand her. Finally, she turned the portable television in her cart around. We witnessed as the second plane flew into the World Trade Center.
What followed were panicked hours of trying to contact our friends, and my boyfriend of the time who is now my husband, in Washington, DC while news that a plane also hit the Pentagon resinated in our heads. Many of our friends had been in New York City doing internships. Had they all been accounted for? It was days before the details would be released and the safety of our loved ones would be confirmed.
The people of Spain were overwhelming in their support of our country and of us, the American among them. (This was, of course, before George W. Bush managed to make most of the world our adversary.) The showing in Spain made us feel a little better about being so far away. We longed to mourn with our people, to stand amongst our fellow countrymen in grief for those that were lost. Participate in the anger against those that had dared to execute such a catastrophe.
Years later, I had an office that overlooked the damaged site. Sometimes, in the winter, a cold wind would blow and move the building with slow, loud creak that made my view even eerier. Most of the people I worked with had been there on that day. Many I knew, including our Jamaican housekeeper, had watched people jump from windows of the towers, the fall ahead of them somehow being less terrifying than the fires that roared behind them. The long-term damage that this vision might do to one’s psyche is unimaginable.
Now, ten and a half years later, the nightmare has come full circle. Thousands will be allowed a tiny bit of closure for the friends and relatives that were lost. Millions will feel some satisfaction that the dragon, always lurking in the shadows, has finally been slain.
And once again, I am in foreign territory. I am unable to stand with my fellow American citizens on home soil in celebration. And I am once again saddened by this distance.
I’m certain that many, if not most, Americans abroad feel something similar. Feel the same sense of loneliness and detachment. Feel that we really should be there on this day. That we deserve to walk the streets and share the nods and smiles of strangers in collective commemoration and gratification.
Feel, perhaps on this day more than other, that we are really just too far away.