On Sept. 11, 2001 I was sitting in the smoking lounge of my small college in Switzerland.
50 of us crowded around the TV, watching the planes crash into the World Trade Center over and over again on TV as if it were the latest scene in a Die Hard movie.
To one side of me was Abdul Aziz Bin Laden, Osama’s nephew. To the other was my friend Derek, whose father worked in the World Trade Center, and was later confirmed as one of the victims.
I walked outside onto the neatly manicured lawn with my best friend DeVon. We sat on the pinkish stone stairs and prayed. His mother worked at the United Nations and frequently had meetings at the World Trade Center. “All circuits are busy” answered the woman on the other end of his frantic calls.
The next week was difficult.
New Yorkers called over and over again trying to find out if their loved ones were alive.¬† The Arab club put up signs around campus expressing their sympathies.¬† Some kids got drunk so they wouldn’t have to deal with the emotions, but drinking only let down the walls they were using to hold themselves together.
That week, most of the people of our small Swiss Italian town didn’t make eye contact with us.¬† They knew there was nothing they could say to make it better, so we were left with brief glances that seemed to say, “We’re sorry.” The local paper sent a reporter to interview students about the tragedy.
Around the world, candle-light vigils began.¬† I believe we held one of our own.
For the next few weeks the school was patrolled by armed guards to ensure the safety of the student body which included royals, mafia, and wealthy heirs.¬† With two Bin-Ladens in the school, the guards were as much there to protect us from each other as from outside attackers.
For those of us who weren’t overcome with rage or loss, the attacks only further cemented the cross-cultural bonds the school hoped to instill in us.¬†¬† We felt less like Americans, Arabs, and Asians and more like human beings.¬† (forgive the cliche).
7 years later it strikes me that we still have a lot to learn about getting along and making the world a better place.