Saturday, September 11, 2021

Twenty Years Ago Today the World Changed for Everyone



If you say "Nine Eleven" to an American, inevitably the mind leaps to thoughts of witnessing in real time the World Trade Center Twin Towers crashing to earth in New York City at the hands of foreign terrorists intent on undermining the American Way of Life,  There are other dates that summon up similar once unimaginable horrors, such as "December 7"–albeit not witnessed by the nation in real time those eighty years ago in 1941–and "January 6th" though not orchestrated in 2021 by foreign terrorists.  But none is burned as deeply into the psyche of our generation as Al Qaeda's murderous coordinated attacks on New York City and Washington DC on September 11, 2001.
Today marks the 20th Anniversary of that day.  Ten years ago, a New York City-based newspaper, The National Herald, asked that I be part of its 9/11 10th year commemorative issue and write about where I was that Tuesday morning.  What I didn't mention in that article was the comaraderie among Americans that sprung up out of that horrendous event.  Divisions haunting the nation since its Vietnam era vanished that morning. Or so it seemed. 

But as we've learned, they had not disappeared, and are back today with a vengeance. I hope and pray it will not require another catastrophe for Americans to regain their common bond and purpose. 
I've republished this article before, and when I last did I thought there was no need to run it again. But a loyal MIE blog follower wrote to me after that posting saying, "You must continue to post this every year."
I'm not sure I'll do that, but this being the 20th year memorial, and Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT) having interviewed me this week for my additional thoughts on matters raised in that article, I felt that this year I should run it again. 
Here is what I wrote, about an event I shall never forget and most definitely shaped my life. 

I like it over here by the United Nations.  Beekman Place is different from other New York City streets; it’s more like a quiet, residential private road in an elegant European city.  My walk to my office is down First Avenue overlooking the East River and alongside the gardens and flags of the UN.  It gives me a few daily moments of serenity and escape from the often out of control state of my life as a lawyer here.

I need this walk today.  The sky is so blue and clear, except for the few smoke-like clouds on the downtown horizon.  I’m up by the UN General Assembly Building when I call my friend Panos to find out how his date went last night.  He’s frantic and says he can’t talk.  He’s waiting for his mother to call him from Greece.  I ask if everything is OK.  He says she’ll be worried when she hears that his office was struck by a plane.  I must have misunderstood him.  He works in the World Trade Center.  He says his office building is burning and he has to get off the phone.

Those are not clouds on the horizon, it’s smoke.

I tell him to get out of the building.  He says it’s not necessary.  He’s okay.  His date kept him out late and he’s still at home.  He’ll go to work in the afternoon, after the fire is out.  He hangs up.

How could a plane have hit the World Trade Center on a day as clear as this one?  Something must have happened to the pilot.  I hear sirens everywhere and move a little faster toward my office.  By the time I get upstairs everyone is looking out the windows on the south side of our building.  It has an unobstructed view of the Towers.  Now they’re both burning.  I’m told a second plane hit the second Tower.  We all know what that means—even before learning about the Pentagon.  Someone tells me a plane hit Pittsburgh, my hometown.  I can’t believe what I’m hearing.  I call my daughter, she lives in Greenwich Village.  She’s frightened.  We all are.  I tell her to keep calm. My son is in Cincinnati, I’m sure he’s safe but I can’t reach him.

We’re all glued to the big screen TV in my law firm’s main conference room.  The first tower begins to fall and we turn en masse from the television to look out our windows as it crumbles to the ground before our eyes.  It’s surreal, it can’t be happening.  But it happens again.  Not a word is said while we watch the second tower fall.   We are at war.  But with whom?

My mind can’t fix on what all this means.  I focus on a rumor that there’s an imminent biological anthrax attack and race to the pharmacy for enough antibiotic for my daughter.  That’s something I can do.  Again, I think, my son is in Cincinnati.  He’s safe there.

When I moved to NYC in 1969 my first job was blocks away from the Trade Center site.  The Towers were in the midst of construction and I saw them every morning across the Brooklyn Bridge as I’d head to work.  In August 1974 I watched Philippe Petit do his high wire walk between them, and three years later glimpsed at mountain climber George Willig scale one in the wind.  Even after moving my office uptown they were always in view from my window.  They spanned my career as a lawyer in NYC.  I can’t believe they’re gone.


The City is in shock.  Lines of thousands of refugees from downtown are trekking up Third Avenue toward home or simply to somewhere other than where they were.  No one is talking.  The smell is everywhere, acrid and bitter.  There seems to be grey dust on the shoes of every cop and will be for days.

I stop at a restaurant halfway between my office and home.  It’s Greek and run by a friend.   It’s the only place I can think of to go.  There is no one at home and I can’t get downtown to my daughter.  She’s fine.  Panos comes in.   I try making a joke about his date from last night.  I say he should marry her, she saved his life.  It’s not that funny.

A half dozen or so young men and women of about the age I was when I started working in NYC are sitting quietly at a table along the front windows.  A cell phone rings—one of the few that must be working—and one of the women answers.  She’s a dark haired girl.  She listens, shuts her phone and starts sobbing.  She says something to the others; they hug each other and cry.


It’s after midnight by the time I head home.  My cell phone rings on the way.  It’s a friend from Capri in Italy.  He’s been trying to reach me all day to see if I’m okay.  I hang up and continue home.  I’m tearing.  Friendship like his is what life’s all about.  Family and friends are what matter.

A week later I drive to my farm, get in my pickup and head to Pittsburgh to visit my brother and sister-in-law.  I decide not to go back to NYC but drive south, toward the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  I’ve never been there before, but it just seems the place to be.  I have to drive by Washington, DC to get there.  It’s only when I see the first sign for DC that I realize I’ve made an unconscious pilgrimage past the three sites of the 9/11 massacre—NYC, Western PA, DC.

Duck, NC is chilly in the off-season and the ocean is wild.  I lock myself in a hotel room overlooking the sea and complete my first novel.  I’m driven to make something good come out of all of this bad.  A week later I drive back to NYC.  I’m on the Jersey Turnpike heading north and close to the City, but I can’t tell where it begins.  Its southern landmark is gone.  This world is insane.

A few years later I give up my life in NYC and move to the Aegean island of Mykonos to pursue my dream of writing mysteries exploring the heart and soul of Greece.   There is no reason to wait any longer.  Is there?

On a lighter note, this month my tenth Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis novel, THE MYKONOS MOB, is available across all e-book formats for $1.99 via this link.


  1. Your reflections and feelings about 9/11 are not dissimilar to that of my own Jeff, albeit mine were formed far away on the opposite side of the globe at the time.

    I looked out of the window of my office on 9/11 as the sun was setting over a peaceful and tranquil Bavarian countryside; and with tears in my eyes, watched the reflection in the glass of the fires and the twin towers falling on the CNN live shot that was being broadcast on a loop on the television behind me.

    I turned to Chris and remarked that America would never again be the same following this day; nor would the average American and our political system as we knew it then survive this unscathed.

    Unfortunately, both time and the many adverse political decisions taken in the interim have proven me correct and led to a highly polarized and deeply divided nation now, with little hope of ever regaining the greatness and respect that it once enjoyed.

    9/11 not only changed America, but the way that people around the world look at Americans and our once admired country. This loss of respect, make the loss of these 3,000 poor innocent souls even more sad and painful on this 20-year anniversary.

    Stay safe over there buddy.

    N & C

    1. With all you've done to fight so valiantly in war and peace for our country, dear N, I appreciate how tragic all that's happened to America deeply saddens you. I wish I could offer a sincere rebuttal to your view of where our nation is and where it's headed. But I cannot. Stay safe and be well.

  2. Each time you post this, I read it word-for-word as if I'd never read it before. I get a wave of goosebumps each time. I remember the call I received from a New Jersey friend, a mother frantic to find her son as he'd planned to fly out of Seattle that morning. He needed to be stopped, she nearly shouted into the phone. "We are under attack! He can't get on a plane." Yes, this needs to be published, time and time again. We need to remember not just the date, but the horrifying details of that autumn day 20 years ago. xxx

    1. Dear Jackie,

      You and Joel are the reason I posted it again. I've come to agree with you. Honor must be paid to our nation and fellow citizens for what we endured that day...and in its aftermath. Never forget is the right phrase. Stay safe.

  3. I was home in suburban MD that day, working in the home office, when Cindy called me and told me to turn on the TV. At that time only one tower had been hit. Just as the TV came on we watched as a plane flew into the second tower. It was terrible and terrifying. We hung up.
    When a plane hit the Pentagon, I called Cindy and told her to come home. She was at 18th & I in DC, a few blocks from the White House. I was afraid that might be another target. Metro stations had lines out the door and MARC was working to get trains back to DC to manage the early crowds exiting the city. Hours later Cindy made it home and we did what many others did, watched TV, let people know that we were fine, and did what we could to find out whether
    our friends and family were safe.
    What a sad day.

    1. I think it's safe to say We all lived that day in a stupor, made more intense by worries over the safety of our loved ones--both family and friends. Stay safe, David.

  4. Yes, what a day. A friend who worked ine onf o the struck towers went to work an hour late, fortunately. He arrived to find a collapsed building. Someone else I know arrived at her workplace, to find a shattered building, too.
    The longtime partner of a friend's father called him from the 103rd floor of one of the buildings to say good-bye to him.

    Yet people came together. I saw some amazing scenes on my avenue of people helping each other up the street, people who probably wouldn't know each other.

    I saw photos of missing people all over 7th Avenue. That was heartbreaking. Then the notices about who could take in pets who were left alone for days, as their owners had perished.

    Yes, I lived here and saw this, crying with everyone else. I am amazed to see grown children of those lost, and how well they are doing.

    And I saw a video interview with someone from the Windows on the World restaurant. A mix of people of many nationalities, each with a story, and one was about how well everyone worked together and liked each other.

    1. So many imaged, Kathy. On 9/11 I was a part owner of a very "in" bar/restaurant in the East Village. It never recovered from 9/11 for many reason, not the least of which was it bore an Arab name. But what I remember most vividly was walking through Union Square during the day late into the night to find folk of all ages and ethnicities gathered around photographs and "Have you seen?" messages affixed to plywood sheets ringing the southern end of the park. Candlelight vigils praying for word turned into flowered memorials. But the people stayed...hoping and consoling. Tough memories to reflect upon, especially in light of today's world.

  5. Then you see the good in people, when they help each other through a tragedy, wherever it may be.