On the morning of September 12, 2001, my husband, Jim, and I walked along the narrow brick street of a small Italian hilltown. At an outdoor newspaper stand a front-page photograph caught our attention: billows of smoke over New York. Likely an image related to a new movie. Yet we stopped. Relying on the little high school Latin we remembered, we figured something horrible had happened in New York. Terrorists. Jets. Skyscrapers.
When we stopped for lunch at a café-tavern, a few men were watching a sports event on TV. For our benefit the proprietor changed the channel to CNN. In halting English patrons expressed concern for our country. A waiter took us to his apartment so we could use his computer to email our family. Over the next few days we had little choice but to continue our itinerary, driving from one hilltown to another. Everywhere local people had created memorials, bouquet piled on bouquet, placards expressing prayers for America.
Back in Rome those of us whose flights home had been cancelled waited. Jim and I travel cheap and our little hotel had no TV, so we watched CNN in lobbies of expensive hotels where Americans tend to stay. No one chased us away.
During those days of waiting we had many opportunities to engage in conversation. At the Forum a Japanese journalist who had spent much of his career in the Middle East warned that a military response by the U.S would be a big mistake. At a restaurant recommended by travel guru Rick Steves, American tourists, who tend to eat dinner earlier than Italians do, sat at adjoining tables and shared worries about our families back home.
Jim and I returned to the U.S. feeling as if we’d slept through an earthquake, waking to discover that life here had changed drastically. In a way I regret being absent during a defining moment in our country’s history. Yet I was blessed to experience how the world stood with us.