While visiting Italy for the first time, I was convinced that no day could be a bad day in the home of my family heritage. Having just lost my father and my grandmother, it seemed fitting to honor them with a trip to Italia, the country they loved so much. On day five, a memorable trip became horrifically unforgettable. It was September 11, 2001.
My cousin Michelle and I began the day at the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence. No reproduction or photo can capture the essence of Michelangelo’s “David.” We stood there taking in the massive sculpture for what seemed like hours. Throughout all of our stops in Rome, Florence, La Spezia and Sienna, it was amazing to see the beauty people can create.
From there we bargained with vendors at the San Lorenzo outdoor market. We dined al fresco for lunch on the most delicious sautéed artichoke hearts and macaronis we’ve ever had. It was a perfect day. As we finished lunch, it was almost 3:00 pm Italian time – or 9:00 am East Coast time in the U.S.
When we returned to our hotel, we flipped on the TV. We had no idea what was happening – word had not yet spread through town. Unfortunately, we were just in time to see the second tower fall. After watching in disbelief and trying to make phone calls back to the U.S. to check on loved ones and co-workers, we spent the rest of the evening in the lobby of our hotel with other travelers watching the news coverage together. I’ve never felt such a need to be connected with complete strangers. That night, regardless of nationality, we were all citizens of the world.
I can not speak enough of the love and compassion we received from the Italian people. Every where we went the rest of the week, everyone who heard our “American accents” stopped us to share how they felt – and to ask us if we were ok. We were interviewed by an Italian journalist who couldn’t speak a word of English, but wanted desperately to talk to us. On Friday the 14th, we were coincidentally in the Sistine Chapel in Rome during the three minutes of silence that Europe held in memory of those lost. It’s a moment that still gives me chills when remembering it. While at the airport in Rome that Saturday, the Italian flight agent started crying while apologizing for needing to check our bags so thoroughly.
That day is as clear in my mind as if it were yesterday. Every step, every meal, every tear. Sadly, our trip of a life time turned into an urgent desire to return to Philadelphia. And until that day, if you asked me what my heritage is, I would answer “Italian!” But on September 11, 2001, I never felt more American.
Despite feeling the need to be back on American soil that day, my passion for traveling has long since returned. No terrorist should hold us back from experiencing all the world has to offer – and from seeing the beauty past and present generations have left for us to explore.