Living in France during 9-11: Excerpts from My Journal

by | Sep 11, 2015 | Blog, France | 6 comments

Living in France during 9/11: Excerpts from My Journal

Where were you as you learned about the terrorist attack on 9/11? It’s a frozen moment for most of us. On the anniversary, I don’t want to relive the trauma, but I do want to remember what it was like being so far away from home, from family and from American’s when our country was experiencing such pain and confusion. I had been living in France for 9 months at the time of the attacks and would stay there another 7 years.

There is a six-hour time difference between New York and Central European time. When the first tower was hit at 8:45 a.m., it was 2:45 p.m. in France. I had spent the day in Geneva, Switzerland with my good friend Linda. She dropped me off at my place and drove home which took another 20 minutes or so, and immediately called me. “Turn on your TV. America is under attack!” Thank goodness, I had CNN International on our French cable, and tuned in for the non-stop coverage.

The attacks were well under way when I turned on the TV and stood vigil for hours and days in disbelief and anger. In my journal, I wrote:

Life changes for everyone. A tragic day in history. The World Trade Towers have been destroyed, the pentagon has been attacked. I can’t believe it. I keep watching CNN over and over again. Trying to make sense of it. I have felt so safe and secure as an American, especially on American soil. I’ve always felt secure with the dollar. Sadness, despair, fear confusion – what will happen? How will family members of victims move on? I have faith in our nation. People are strong but this is so big. Hard to absorb. I’m afraid for the world, for human nature and for myself. My first knee jerk reaction is one of disbelief and anger. Racism ignites and I have course feelings that xenophobia is justified. I believe that any progress we have made toward tolerance and understanding will be set back, way back. The most primitive values emerge, survivalist practices. I can’t but think about my situation. What will happen to the dollar? To my portfolio? My freedom? I wish I could talk to my Dad.

The trajectory of my emotions moved and shifted between a large, worldcentric perspective, being afraid for the world and global human relations, to an ethnocentric focus on my nation, America and revenge, to an egocentric worry about how it would affect me – especially my safety and my money. All three of these perspectives played themselves out in the days, weeks and months that followed.

I sat in front of the TV watching CNN repeat the attacks in a non-ending loop, the trauma penetrating my muscles, bones, emotions. Phone service was restored and I could talk with my family. CNN connected me to America but as the days passed, I was growing more and more homesick. Many French people reached out to me – stopped by the house or called and expressed their shock and disbelief. They were kind and offered genuine condolences. I was the only American in the village, and I think it made them feel good to touch an American in the midst of the madness and express their grief personally.

September 13, 2001, my journal:

It’s been two days and I feel gloomy. There’s been some good news today – five firefighters were found alive in the rubble! Such a miracle and there is hope for others. I am feeling very confident about President Bush and his team of advisors. Both parties have come together to combat terrorism. The Queen of England ordered a special ceremony and the band played the Star Spangled Banner. There has been an outpouring of support from almost all countries with the exception of Afghanistan and Iraq and maybe Pakistan. I know we are finding renewed strength and patriotism with this tragedy. I’m still in disbelief. I wish I had more American’s to talk to. I am feeling isolated here.

Standing on top of a crumpled fire truck with retired New York City firefighter Bob Beckwith, President George W. Bush rallies firefighters and rescue workers Friday, Sept. 14, 2001, during an impromptu speech at the site of the collapsed World Trade Center towers in New York City. "I can hear you," President Bush said. "The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon." Photo by Eric Draper, Courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library

Standing on top of a crumpled fire truck with retired New York City firefighter Bob Beckwith, President George W. Bush rallies firefighters and rescue workers Friday, Sept. 14, 2001, during an impromptu speech at the site of the collapsed World Trade Center towers in New York City. “I can hear you,” President Bush said. “The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.” Photo by Eric Draper, Courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library

Am also feeling a great uncertainty about my future. My feelings of prosperity and abundance have been replaced with feelings of scarcity. I believe that this event will act as a wake-up call, but to what? Let go and let God?

It’s so incredible to hear people’s stories. Stories of survival, stories of loved one’s dying, stories of loved one’s writing. Intense emotions. How can humans have such presence of mind? Such resilience of spirit and will? How do we go on?

September 14, 2001, my journal:

Woke up with a headache and felt totally distraught, disconnected. I read e-mails from friends about patriotism, flags, wearing red, white and blue. Amandine (my step-daughter) printed out some American flags and I put them over the TV. I made an altar for remembrance. I draped a red cloth over a trunk and put symbols of love and tolerance and patriotism on it with the American flag on the front. I placed my blue butterfly scarf to the left and my white angel scarf to the right representing freedom, transformation and hope. I have the globe lit and America is prominently displayed. The beautiful angel that Toni gave me is spreading her wings to the heavens. A small statute of Gyatri represents Hindus, a cross represents Christians, a little Buddha man and a picture of Mecca with the Words Assalama Aliakum, meaning, “May peace be with you.” There are two bouquets of flowers from the garden and two candles and a small yin/yang to represent Unity. My photo of me on top of the World Trade Tower is prominently displayed in the middle.

I’m feeling closer to God. To clear light.* To the God within.

The United States flag flies on the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing flag pole, May 29, at a non-disclosed base in Southwest Asia. The wing is home to the KC-10 Extender, U-2 Dragon Lady, E-3 Sentry and RQ-4 Global Hawk aircraft. The wing is comprised of four groups and 12 squadrons and the wing's deployed mission includes air refueling, air battle management, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in support of overseas contingency operations in Southwest Asia. The 380th AEW supports operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom and the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.

Clean-up efforts are hindered today by rain. Still no survivors. The five firemen they believed they were rescuing were workers and not directly related to the attacks on Tuesday. What was incredibly hopeful, deflated. (Of course, no diminishment of the five lives that were rescued). The outpouring of New Yorkers for the firefighters and rescuers is heartwarming. There are long lines of people applauding them. There are thousands of people looking for their loved ones, hoping beyond hope that they will find them. They have created photos – posters with descriptions of their loved ones. They haven’t given up. They want to see them alive. This after four days.

The CEO from Cantor Fitzgerald was on the BBC. They can’t account for 700 people and his brother is amongst them. He is devastated, just sobbing. His employees want to work and rebuild the business. He is flabbergasted, “Shouldn’t we be going to funerals?” They say “no!” We have to work. We have to do something. Such spirit. Such strength.

National Cathedral, a day of prayer. All of our past presidents are there by invitation only. President Bush called Al Gore and asked him to come. He flew from Europe into Newfoundland, drove to New York and flew to Washington, D.C. Unity! A little scary to think all our leaders are in one building. The Vice President, Dick Cheney, is at Camp David. My heart is very touched by this outpouring and coming together.

September 15, 2001, my journal:

I hope we have heart as we move forward. I think I’ve OD’d and am just a bit saturated with TV yet still watch. We’re going to a movie today in Geneva.

September 16, 2001, my journal:

Still no survivors but people haven’t lost hope. It’s hard to know what to make of those who hold onto hope and believe they will see their loved ones again, and those who seem realistic and accepting of the outcome of the devastation. My heart goes out to them all… May you all feel peace at some point.

Major Giuliani spoke today and shared that he is going to a wedding. The mother of the bride has lost her father, husband and son in the last 12 months. Her son (the bride’s brother) was a firefighter and Giuliani was at his wake. He asked her, “How can you stand it?” She replied, “I’m looking for the good things that are left in life, like my daughter’s wedding. The major is walking her down the aisle. He urged people that life goes on… We must participate in the good things that are left.

September 18, 2001, my journal:

I feel like shit today from the inside out. I just don’t know what to do. Depression? Devastation? Disconnection? Isolation?

I’ve thought a lot about what Giuliani said, to look at what’s positive in life. I see the obvious things but also realize that what is positive is also laced with fear. So much of my life is covered in fear. I desperately want certainty in my life. Being an American citizen and having money in dollars have made me feel secure. I don’t know where I fit in the world. I am feeling painfully lonely here (in the village) because I do not have true friends. I cannot commiserate with my French acquaintances. Now I know I have merely acquaintances and no true friends here. I’ve left so much behind in the States. I’ve taken so many things for granted and I don’t know how to recapture it.

It’s also so painful to see people react. Threats of vengeance, violent rhetoric, war, more pain, more killing. Have we evolved as human beings? So many live in a primitive, brutish state. I see so little hope for human evolution of the soul, just a stagnant pond of radiated waste.


What to do? I did yoga yesterday. Tried to calm and center myself but was bombarded with a zillion thoughts. Couldn’t help but feel that by staying in tune with the details of the events, I don’t have to look inside. Why do I resist looking inside? Too sad? Too painful? What the fuck? I think I need some help.

September 24, 2001, my journal:

It all continues; it doesn’t go away. We’re all living in uncertain times, economically and politically. I feel myself moving on and moving through it but with difficulty. Jean Luc and I cancelled our trip to Senegal. I feel bad for Denis (our brother0in-law who wanted us to go) but can’t believe that they are not hesitating in the least. There is a big difference between a French reaction to 9-11 and an American. I don’t like letting fear get the best of me and I don’t like letting the terrorists “win” but I have to pay attention to my comfort level and intuition. My gut says, “lay low.” Why be in an African Muslim country right now? There is too much potential backlash and I can go to a beach around here and drink pinna-coladas. Senegal is not important to me.

Looking back on my journals, I see how vulnerable I was before the attacks. I was trying to adjust to a new life in a foreign country with a new man and taking on the new role of step-mom. What I am not sharing is the heaviness of my personal angst as it spiraled with the events of 9-11. My next journal entry was on October 26 and was related to a family member’s health issue. Time passes but time will never make me forget.

My heart goes out to all those who perished that day and to all the families who lost loved ones, all the survivors and all the brave first-responders, many of whom are suffering illnesses today from the debris at ground zero.


*The Clear Light Prayer

Now I am experiencing the Clear Light of objective reality. Nothing is happening, nothing ever has happened or ever will happen.  My present sense of self, the voyager, is in reality the void itself, having no qualities or characteristics. I remember myself as the voyager, whose deepest nature is the Clear Light itself; I am one; there is no other. I am the voidness of the void, the eternal unborn, the uncreated, neither real nor unreal. All that I have been conscious of is my own play of consciousness, a dance of light, the swirling patterns of light in infinite extension, endless endlessness, the Absolute beyond change, existence, reality. I, the voyager, am inseparable from the Clear Light; I cannot be born, die, exist, or change. I know now that this is my true nature.

From American Book of the Dead by E.J. Gold

I wrote this prayer out in my journal. It brought me comfort and helped me hold the enormity of human loss.