“It’s a movie right?” asked my coworker, Pierre. “It’s a new Hollywood movie?” I didn’t have answer. All I could do was stare at this little, fuzzy CNN media player in amazed horror. Dumbfounded I drifted back to my desk and logged online like everyone else in the office, and judging by my the long load times on CNN.com, everyone in the world.
Initially, I felt numb, shocked, and very alone. But the loneliness didn’t last long. Within minutes, I started receiving support and consolations from my French coworkers, and after, through phone calls from my buddy Becky and my Mom. Both of whom filled me in on as much as they could at the time.
Later, I was invited over to my good friend, Katey’s house for dinner and someone to talk to. She and her husband have been wondeful as far as helping me integrate into French culture, and once again, they were there for me. We talked for a few hours, and as time went on the reality of the situation sank deeper and deeper. This was compounded by the fact that I couldn’t locate some friends who lived in NY. I was pretty sure they didn’t work too close to the WTC, but I wanted to make sure. I did find out later that they were all ok.
Later that night, on my way home, I talked to an American friend who also lived in Lyon (about 2000 Americans live here). She was upset, angry, and very worried about her husband. She told me the next day about how he had decided to fly out of Boston the day before 9/11…he lives in LA, so his chances of being on one of the flights would have been pretty good.
That Friday, I attended an American Club of Lyon meeting where our Consul provided us with more information, like the 1/2 million letters and emails he had received within days of 9/11, all of the flowers, cards, and personal notes that covered the steps of our Consulate, and about how specialized firefighters and rescue teams from Lyon had flown off to NY to help in the search for survivors.
The following week I went to two memorial services. One was a service in English in a small church (about 200 people), the other was in French in the Catherdral St. Jean, a very large catherdral in Lyon’s old district. Every possible space was filled. There had to be about 5000+ people in attendance, and the main three religions of Lyon were represented: Christians, Muslims, and Jews. The sight alone brought tears to all of the Americans’ eyes. The service was such a beautiful expression of love, support, and brotherhood. It was as if everyone in that church understood, the world had to change, that we had to change to rise above events like 9/11 and be a more united planet.
The support from the French communities has been overwhelming. I’ve been in pubs and restaurants where strangers have come up and given me hugs after finding out I was American. They all said how sorry they were, and how we’re all in this fight together. It’s amazing to me. I can’t believe how anyone could think the French rude or heartless, especially after seeing all of the love and kindless that I’ve seen. And this includes the Arab community. The baker near me, who is Arab, expressed his utter horror at the events and talked with me about what the Koran really represents.
So, next time you’re in France or the next time you see a French tourist, say thanks for me and all of the Americans in France and around the world. The French truly are our brothers and sisters. They’ve been proving that to me everyday since 9/11.