Each of us has a story.
We were living in London, England on 9/11. We were Expats.
My children were attending a US Department of Defense School on a Royal Air Force base outside of the City.
My day was slow going surprisingly. I was having a cup of tea just looking outside the window at Hyde Park. It was a pretty day. The sun was shining and our apartment was quiet. I remember thinking I should take a walk down Oxford Street.
The phone rang. It was the kids. I don’t remember much after that but I was told to turn on the TV. I did. The horror that I saw would, of course, never be forgotten. My husband called to see if I knew. He was supposed to have flown out on a business trip to Madrid that day. Plans changed.
Living abroad on 9/11 was difficult. Somehow I felt so alone. I wanted to be home to mourn and to watch the news in its entirety.
The British people were kind and were saddened along with all the American expats and we were treated kindly. The Brits had, in fact, lost 67 countrymen that day.
At the American International Church of London, where we attended services, the Royal Family of Prince Andrew, Fergie, and children attended the service to give their respects. I don’t remember that service very well but I do remember tears and sadness and feelings of disbelief.
We lived around the corner from a street full of Muslim restaurants. Tables were normally full of men smoking their Hookahs and keeping to themselves with idle conversation.
On 9/11 and for weeks after, we would walk down this street and no one would be outside. These people had rolled up the sidewalks. It was eerily quiet.
The Queen held a service at St. Paul’s Cathedral on 9/14. Crowds of people came out to mourn all together and to show solidarity. Prime Minister Blair, Former Prime Minister Thatcher and all of the Royal family were together to show their respects and pray together. We couldn’t get in but we stood outside and listened to the words over the loudspeakers with several thousand others. It was helpful somehow to know that the Brits mourned with us and all Americans.
At the changing of the Guard outside Buckingham Palace, the Coldstream Guard played the Star-Spangled Banner on 9/12. The Queen had ordered this be done. There were over 5,000 Americans and both the Americans and Brits were gathered together weeping at the atrocity of it all.
The kids came home early and did not return to school for many days. The base became more secure and Passports had to be shown. The base was in a ‘Code Red’ status since it was an active military base. No one knew at that point whether to expect more planes to appear unexpectedly above the skyline.
The BBC did not televise all the details as the US news had. I found myself starving from the lack of news coverage and turned the channels to get any news at all. Chris Matthews was televised on our cable and I hung on every word. It was never enough. I had so many questions. That day we went to the Marriott downtown since they had American news stations on their cable. People just sat there in silence staring at the news. Like everyone else in the world, we were all in shock.
Being an Expat on this day and for weeks afterward, I felt out of place. Prior to 9/11 I lived in London and always felt at home. As kind as the Brits were to all Expats we were Americans now with a story to tell when we returned home.
On this day and for all the 9/11s ahead, we are Americans first and foremost no matter where we live.
My heart is full today as it is every 9/11. I mourn for our loss.
God bless America. We won’t forget.