If I were a betting man, I would think the coincidence too outrageous
to be possible: when Terror Tuesday occurred, my wife and I were
traveling through the very birthplace of democracy.
Ancient Greece is the distant embryo from which the United States
elaborated the principles of its modern functioning, and of Greece's
many cultures, the Minoan civilization of Crete was the most ancient
and accomplished. It was darkly fitting that I would find out in
Crete about the savage blow struck into the very heart of democracy:
our homeland, the world's leading contemporary democratic political
Oblivious to the tragedy that had just happened across the ocean,
Camille and I were having coffee in the sleepy town square of Iraklion
when an old Greek man started shouting at us, agitated. Unsettled
and unable to comprehend him (strangely, nobody offered to translate),
we left, struggling with a disconcerting feeling that his words
concerned us being American.
I dropped my wife Camille, in the port, on the dock where a group
of a dozen other American tourists were waiting for the ferry to
I headed one mile up the road to drop the rental car off, and
here it finally happened. The man at the rental place showed up
from the back office (which doubled as his house) only after I repeatedly
shouted to get his attention. Pale, he wordlessly opened the partition
door and waved me into his small living room, where CNN was broadcasting
live in Greek from the site of the Twin Towers holocaust.
Speechless, I stared at something that my eyes were equipped to
see, but my brain was unable to process. Time became a throbbing
pain in my temples so excruciating that I had no choice but to let
go of it.
I snapped out of it when the man warned me that I was about to
miss the ferry. Hurrying back on foot to the port, I could only
think that the future wasn't what it used to be, and that all our
lives were changed forever.
On the dock I was the first one to bring the news to the others
as they were boarding the boat. One woman nearly fainted; she worked
in the South Tower and had extended her Greek vacation for a few
days, otherwise she would have been at work somewhere in the doomed
I never felt such powerful unity and purposefulness as when pride
replaced the feelings of shock and loss. On the ferry, tourists
from all over the world huddled in the lounge around the TV; that
night everybody was American. Although all we understood from the
Greek broadcast were the mind-numbing images and the occasional
information scroll, we felt as one.
"Whoever did this has no idea how much wrath they'll incur", a
British college boy was saying, his face purple with determination.
"I can't wait to see how America will level the bastards who did
this," his Dutch girlfriend chimed in.
How profoundly unfair that it had taken so much death to make
most of us feel more alive than we'd ever felt before.
Over the next few days, it was strange to see Americans seeking
each other out everywhere we went, and coming together with a feeling
of solidarity which more than once made me very emotional. I was
also shocked to meet several New York couples on their honeymoon
who all regularly worked in or close around the World Trade Center.
We reflected on life, felt guilty for being so far away and on vacation,
prayed, and parted after a few hours feeling like lifelong friends.
The Greek media covered the US tragedy as if it were its own.
One of the main Greek cable channels had a discussion panel dedicated
to the U.S. events going on 24/7. CNN was of course on the ball
as always (we watched CNN in Greek, Italian, or Spanish, depending
on the area we were in). The high Greek Orthodox clergy organized
televised prayers. Everywhere we went, we were treated with deference
and compassion ... feelings I daresay traveling Americans rarely
We were offered tokens of care from regular Greek people so often
that we realized another rarely felt truth: no matter what stereotyping
and resentment we often face from other civilized nations as Americans,
we are fundamentally seen as the good guys. Perhaps the age of knights
on white horses is over... but what the hell, we still have the
Traveling on Sunday morning further North to Romania, a sampling
of TV programming and newspaper headlines here showed the support
for the United States' cause to be just as outspoken, if not more
- leading even to military spokespeople offering troops for the
American war effort!
Whoever perpetrated the unspeakable terrors of last Tuesday should
be fully aware that the United States do not require the help of
foreign troops to solve its problem. Whether that realization alone
does not make their blood run cold, the fact that so much of the
rest of the world is offering their armed support to America should.
The moment which elicited my most mixed feelings took place on
Saturday. We were about to leave the island of Naxos, and President
Bush was delivering his radio address from a TV on the patio of
a waterfront tavern where a dozen Americans sat entranced. The next
tavern housed a crowd of avid fans watching a soccer finals. At
the exact moment that President Bush began his address, a team scored
and next door a dozen men erupted in ecstatic victorious shouting.
The two feelings colluded eerily and I almost yelled at the European
sports fans next door to pipe down, but I didn't. Why?
Because I rest assured that the day will come again when, as Americans,
our highest peaks of emotion will be our favorite sports team winning
a game, and not agonizing over whether our loved ones are safe on
the sacred American soil.
That I will bet on.
Back to communications