It was Tuesday, September 11…

It was in the old city centre of Leiden, on the corner facing Saint Peter’s church. On this same spot the famous 14th-century jurist and book collector Philips van Leyden once had a magnificent library, which was called the ‘Templum Salomonis.’In 1894 that ancient name was revived as a name for an auction house and a modern and antiquarian bookshop.

On that day I decided that, having paid the monthly bills, I could finally afford to buy the German edition of the writing of Plotinus. I had been planning that purchase for months, but there was a special reason to finally do it then.

On the following day I started a few months course for activists of the Dutch Labour Party. Reading the Neoplatonic philosopher and mystic was meant to help me in the struggles with issues of daily politics, which were then about to fill the time I had when I was not working at the University of Leiden. It was Tuesday afternoon, September 11th 2001. In the far New York it could be about 9 am…

There is an atmosphere in places like ‘Templum Salomonis” which makes people, even if they talk to one another, speak quietly, almost whisper. Despite that at some point I could here one customer say louder than usually that a plane hit a sky-scraper in Manhattan and that it was probably an terrorist attack. I reacted to this truly surreal news in a way I am ashamed of until this day. I thought namely: such a sky-scraper is a perfect phallic symbol. It would be hard to find a better way of getting to that retarded macho from Texas, whom for a few months we were forced to call the president of the United States! It’s brilliant! Then I passed it off lightly with and returned to the bookshelves…

I remembered about the news only when I came back home. It was almost 5 pm – the time when the German channel ARD, which I was then a fan of, had its news. I decided to watch it to finally find out what had really happened. The first thing that attracted my attention when I turned on the tv was that it had already begun and that it was read not by one of the usual announcers, but by the anchorman of the 10:30 pm news, ‘Mr. Tagesthemen’ Ulrich Wickert.  It’s funny what kind of details you notice in such situations: before I saw the burning towers and Pentagon, before I really understood what Wickert was saying, I noticed that he had his glasses on. So he was looking at a piece of paper instead of at the teleprompter. This could mean only one thing: something really serious had happened…

The names World Trade Centre and Twin Towers didn’t mean much to me. But when I saw the plane hitting one of the towers for the first time, and then as they both collapsed, I knew that I would not forget them. And it was then that the thought which I had been somehow pushing away came to my mind: My God, there are people there! There are surely thousands of people, in these buildings, in these planes!

Like millions of watchers around the world I didn’t turn off the tv on that day until the twilight started to set also in New York. I don’t know how many times I saw the plane hitting the South Tower, the pictures of destruction, the faces of exhausted policemen and firefighters marked with the tragedy they were experiencing, I heard cries of horror and panic of people witnessing what had happened. I watched it on the Dutch and German tv, on BBC and CNN. I couldn’t turn off the tv set. Minute after minute, an image after another, I was feeling worse and worse. After a couple of hours I was simply sick. The whole time, however, I was accompanied, as everyone probably was, by a whirl of thoughts: about the people who lost their lives, their loved ones, but also about the possible reaction of the USA. Was there going to be a war? Surely, for it was impossible that the Bush administration would let them get away with it. So the question was only where and to what scale…

Although, when in the middle of the night I finally decided to stop watching, I felt as if my head was exploding from the multitude of images and thoughts, there were so many things I had not seen… I had no idea, of course, about what happened inside the WTC, in the hijacked planes and the Pentagon during those horrible hours. I didn’t know all those tragic, but often also beautiful and deeply human stories that happened there. I also didn’t know that I would soon be co-organizing meetings and demonstrations against the invasion of Iraq and considering going to Baghdad as a human shield. I didn’t know about Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib…

Last but not least, I didn’t know that literally two years later would begin my ‘adventure’ with American Anglicanism which lasts until this day. And it would begin with the opportunity to take part in the services at the Trinity Wall Street via the internet – so close to ‘Ground Zero.’ I had no idea how dear Americans and what happens in their country and their church would become to me, and that over time I would stop associating America with George Bush and his administration and would associate it with people like Dean Alan Jones, Bishop Gene Robinson, Bishop Jefferts Schori, like the Rev. Prof. Peter J. Gomes and friends I met via DSTP or Facebook. And I also didn’t know that for years I wouldn’t read the writings of Plotinus, which from that moment on would get linked in my mind to that first news from New York and my reaction to it…

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