Thursday, September 11, 2008

Remembering 9/11

Our experience of 9/11 is so very different from many of our friends.

To start with we were in a foreign country, barely understanding hello and goodbye, far from family and friends (some of whom were in harm's way and there was nothing we could do about it and no news available for a few days).

You see, in the Fall of 2001, we were in Austria for dh to start a Masters in theological studies. We'd been gone from the States since June -- with a 10 day visit to a brother, his wife and their (then) 8 children living in England. After putzing about Europe with our 4 youngest -- at the time: 12, 10, 2-1/2 and 1-1/2 -- hitting the top pilgrimage sites like Lourdes, Fatima, nd the Miraculous Medal Chapel in Paris, and riding the Chunnel, we finally arrived in mid-August in a small, Alpine village in Austria (about 1-1/2 hours south of Vienna), a village that will remain in our memories -- Gaming, Niederoesterich, Austria!

The village was very small but had a strong American presence as the Franciscan and Ave Maria universities' semester-abroad programs were housed in the same ancient monastery where dh would attend classes. The villagers spoke minimal English, our landlord even less. He spoke High-German as he was from Vienna and taught by "der Schwestern" in an orphanage during WW2. His wife spoke halting English and her German was heavily laced with the village dialect (think deep South, thick accent). Our village was so small ... shops closed on Saturday at 3 and reopened on Monday morning; shopping was a communal activity done daily, all went to the village church ... it was lovely!

I can still remember 9/11/01 -- Herr Baier came to our flat (2 doors away from the ancient but renovated Carthusian Monastery) after lunch time and tried to tell us about the events in NYC and the Pentagon and that the President was air-lifted from the White House and all the other events ... but he was explaining in very excited High German! All we could understand was that our President and country was physically attacked from ?????!

We slowly got word, through the universities' networks, a little of what was going on ... but the stories conflicted ... there were gaps in the information ... we weren't sure if other suicide bombers had crashed into the White House or were attacking other capitol cities throughout the country. We had no idea how many were dead and how many targets were involved.

Dear Herr Baier ... he came after dinner and brought us to his house so we could watch CNN. Brikhead, than 12, and I went over as dh and the littles were pretty upset. We sat there, watching the CNN coverage ... trying to understand just exactly WHAT had happened, but confused by the German-translating voice-overs ... all we knew was that the Pentagon (very close to youngest brother's house and work) had been hit and that the World Trade Center Towers were gone (we have relatives in NY too). It was almost worse just getting parts of the information.
We tried calling the States but couldn't get through. Even the internet and email were letting us down as communication links ... we just couldn't get any informationl.

We were scared, ignorant, confused and clueless ... helpless. It was VERY scary.

But there was hope.
The events that really are set in my mind are the Austrian peoples' reaction to 09/11/01. Cardinal Schoenborn (who was also the Chancellor of dh's institute) held a special Mass in Stephansdom (the Cathedral to St. Stephan of Hungary in Vienna) with all the politicians, religious and ordinary citizens filling the Church to pray for America and her victims.
Added to that were the notes we got over the next few days ... notes from villagers and foreign students in the village who wanted us Americans to know that they understood the terror of bombing -- some could remember WW2 and some could remember the Communist control. The notes gave us hope and explained that they were in communion with us and were praying for our safety and that of our family members so far away. What we would call the "county-officials " came to our village and held a special ceremony to show solidarity with us.

Hope from our foreign friends. Hope that their prayers and good wishes could help us to get beyond the fear and the frustration and the anger.

After a few days, as communication outlets improved, we finally were able to piece together the facts. And the facts were more horrific than what we had imagined. But we had hope.

And that hope is still alive, seven years later, with all of us back in the States and us now living so close to our Nation's capitol.
Hope that there will never be another enemy invasion on U.S. soil ... hope that the world understands that terrorism or bullying won't be allowed ... hope that our children will grow up in a world that never forgets 09/11/01 but, at the same time, never has to relive another nightmare like 09/11/01.

God Bless America!

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