Living in Greece

A practical guide to moving, living, working & traveling in Greece, plus musing and misadventures from an American in Athens

The power of choice: A different kind of 9/11 story

wtc.jpgGhosts of the past: Stock photo of the WTC
with St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in the foreground

Doubtless you’ve heard a hundred teary eyed 9/11 stories about someone who died or a tale of heroism told by a firefighter, airline passenger or ordinary New Yorker. This is not one of those stories.

My 9/11 story starts several months before in Jersey, where I arrived just in time for a snowstorm dumping a meter of snow for Christmas. Aside from digging myself out of the house and being charged double at the dry cleaners to get salt out of my suits, I was in America to recoup losses after the latest bureaucratic hurdles in Greece.

Instead of going all the way to California, I chose to station myself as close to Europe as possible, even though I had no job, no contacts and no previous experience living on the east coast. A Greek-American family that befriended me, when I worked for the summer in their hometown on Rhodes, offered to let me share a tiny bedroom occupied by their son. I was grateful for the futon, even if it came with a side of snoring, selfish behavior and unidentifiable smells.

Maintaining a certain demeanor after commuting two hours by train, subway and on foot to Manhattan while freezing my as$ off, then selling myself with enthusiasm two to three times a day was necessary when job hunting in winter. After three months of this and random insults for being from the west coast, it finally paid off. I was offered three jobs.

The first job was with Cantor Fitzgerald, as an executive assistant; the second with an entertainment firm, as the office manager; the last for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. Salaries were $75,000, $65,000 and $50,000, respectively.

When I called to share this information with my family in California, it seemed like a no-brainer: Take the one with the highest salary.

But I don’t make decisions based on money alone. I factor in things like long-term career goals, longevity, how I can contribute and whether the work has purpose and the potential for growth. Essentially, I apply personal principles based on love, truth, charity and righteousness.

The way I live life has earned me the title of family black sheep – odd, unconventional and illogical – deserving of scorn and the rolling of eyes for going against societal norms in which they taught me to conform. So of course I chose the lowest paying position with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. In return for contributing my skills and experience to further philanthropic projects, I would learn about Orthodoxy and thus gain a better understanding of Greece, a country close to my heart at the time; the salary was negligible. My parents were beyond disappointed.

Fast forward six months to the Upper East Side where most of us gathered around Presvytera’s TV set, baffled that morning by a plane that hit the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m. It was 8:55 a.m. when I arrived, and I remember thinking, “That’s definitely no accident, but what the hell is it?” And when the second plane hit a few minutes later at 9:03 a.m., I wondered no more.

The last sms I sent before New York’s communication networks collapsed was, “We’re under attack.” And after both Towers fell like sandcastles in mere seconds, F-16s flew overhead and the city fell silent, I could not speak, sleep or eat for three days. I also did not cry. I stared at the World Trade Center (WTC) security swipe card I was issued when I interviewed with Cantor Fitzgerald, the institution suffering the most casualties on 9/11 with 658 employees trapped and burned to death at the “Top of the World.”

My parents were relieved to hear I was alive but never once acknowledged that my life was spared by defying them and choosing a path unmotivated by greed. They took it to the grave.

It’s difficult to believe it’s been 10 years since that historical day, and I know the world has changed for worse and thousands are dead in its aftermath. But I don’t know anyone who died on 9/11, I only know someone who could have died. And every time I look at my WTC card, it reminds me of the power of choice.

Choices define you. Choose wisely.

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  Stathis wrote @ September 11th, 2007 at 09:58

Is it a matter only of choice or luck as well?
Nevertheless i think i would be dead if i was to make the same decision!

God rest their souls..

  rositta wrote @ September 11th, 2007 at 12:51

I don’t know if I’d made your choice having come from an impoverished background, probably not and I’d be dead too…ciao

Kat Reply:

We were poor in the beginning as well; and even as my family rose to prominence, we were led to believe we still had no money to keep us humble. I retain some of those lessons; others I know do not. Choices.

  Dylan wrote @ September 11th, 2007 at 19:43

This is an amazing story. I am going to share it on my blog, in honor of 9/11, because it so strongly stands behind my belief in doing what is valuable and purposeful to you and not what is monetarily best. Thank you for sharing it.

  Aero-Veracity wrote @ September 11th, 2007 at 19:58

[…] found this story on WordPress today, written by American In Athens and wanted to share it here because it follows my belief that living with truth, love, […]

  Manblogg wrote @ September 11th, 2007 at 20:11

being the black sheep in your family, as you claim, probably saved your life in this most disturbing event.

I have a similar story although in my case I was not so close to deciding whether to take a job with eSpeed (Cantor Fidgerald’s spin off ). The call came from a recruiter to interview with them for possibly quite a bit more money than the offer of the other company I had already accepted. So the fact that he came a bit late in the job search game and that I did not want to play games with my new employer probably saved me.

It did not save two of my ex colleagues who went down with the first tower (eSpeed occupied a floor higher than the 100th of tower one at the time . These guys never stood any chance).

At the same time I have one very good friend whose life was saved by the fact that he did not have to be an early-goer so he was not present in tower 2 where Reuters used to have offices. Another one who was in tower two when the first plane hit tower one was among the lucky ones who decided to start climbing down the stairs instead of up as many others did listening to the confused orders of the security personnel and went down with the tower eventually.

This has been the greatest tragedy I have personally experienced, witnessing it from across the Hudson, with so many stories of friends and colleagues affected by it.

Kat Reply:

Manblogg – Cantor Fitzgerald occupied the 101-105th floors of Tower 1, the most amazing views of New York but just above where the plane hit. No chance at all, just as you said. This is why they suffered the most losses — more than firefighters, more than medical personnel. I’m haunted by images of people jumping — choosing to take their own life instead of waiting for death to come. I would have done the same.

  melusina wrote @ September 12th, 2007 at 01:12

It really makes you wonder in all the decisions we make every day, how many might have lead us to death? It creeps me out. I’ve heard many similar “could have ended up dying in 9/11″ stories and it gives me chills. Yet 2996 people (+19 terrorists) made their choices, too. And we grieve for it.

I don’t know. I hate to judge people for their greed, because I understand where it comes from, and being in the same position who knows which job I would have taken. But it does say something to have the choice and make a different one than the “greedy” one. Money isn’t everything, and from most of the people I know who have it in abundance, it sure doesn’t make them very happy.

Kat Reply:

Mel – Choices, however small, take us in different directions even in daily life. The owner of Cantor Fitzgerald survived because he was taking his son to school; one might say, ‘oh, that’s just luck.’ But looking deeper, his commitment to family was more important than work. If I had died that day or any day since, I’m OK with that because it would have happened while doing something I love…and I’ve had quite a good run on this planet already. :D P.S. Money in itself is not evil; it’s how it’s used.

  graffic wrote @ September 12th, 2007 at 01:25

That day I was working and I arrived home, switched on the TV and I said: “c’mon I want to see the news, not those american movies with special effects” In fact it was the video of the second plane crashing; when I changed channel I just realized what was happening there was real.

Then there were bombs in 3 suburban trains in Madrid, they exploded at the same time. And almost one year ago, a bomb in the new Airport terminal in Madrid, collapsing half parking building.

I have no words, really.

  zardoz wrote @ September 13th, 2007 at 23:17

strong choice , strong story. =z=

  Zorba the Greek wrote @ September 16th, 2007 at 01:27

Hoping that I’m expressing the vast majority of my fellow Greeks when I say, six years after the deadly terrorist attacks of 9/11, our thoughts are with those who lost their relatives and friends. The 9/11 attack was such an unforgettable tragic event.

  Kat wrote @ September 16th, 2007 at 07:15

Some people call it luck. Really? Many who know me say I’m “the unluckiest person alive.”

Some call it fate. Are we but helpless puppets in this life?

Some say, “oh, you knew it would happen.” Hmmm. I don’t remember getting a memo or having psychic powers.

Some people call it coincidence. Really? Many say there is no such thing; it’s just a series of decisions.

Some say, “God saved you.” Too bad I’m an atheist.

Some tell me that I “deserved to die that day and still do.” How sweet.

I make conscious choices each day that guide my life, and that is my truth. Live yours

Thank you Stathis, Rositta, Dylan, Graffic, Mel, Manblogg, Zardoz and Zorba! Very kind of all of you to make comments. :) And special thanks to EllasDevil who featured my post on his blog.

(Comments of a mean-spirited, judgmental or ignorant nature were moderated/deleted)

  Simon wrote @ November 15th, 2007 at 20:55

Have you heard this? Death’s story: There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and after a while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, “Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture; now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.” The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and saw Death standing in the crowd and went up to him and said, “Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?” Death replied, “That was not a threatening gesture, it was only a startle of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”

Kat Reply:

S – I believe in fate to some extent, but that would mean we have absolutely no control over our lives. One could interpret the story to mean that making irrational decisions speeds us toward our fate; another might see it as a story illustrating that when it’s our time to go, it’s simply our time. Maybe it wasn’t mine. But when it comes, I will smile and accept it because my life has been very full.

  Jennifer wrote @ January 7th, 2009 at 16:18

Wow, remarkable personal story.

The fact that you chose to turn down the 25,000 difference so that your job fit your life mission and goal is incredible. I admire your strong will. But most importantly, the fact that it saved your life is amazing.

I guess you can’t put a price tag on your life. Had you chosen the first job, you would have a lot more money, but it would have cost you your life!

Thank you so much for sharing, and putting to much more perspective on choice.

Kat Reply:

J – Hello there! Well, technically I wouldn’t have had a lot more money because companies don’t pay the dead. ;)

  anastasia wrote @ March 21st, 2009 at 16:35 the first known written piece of philosophy (born in greece :) ) says: Everyone gets what he deserves in the end, by the order of time and merit..maybe because you made a noble decision you, thank god, didn’t turn out to have been one of those who died in that tragic event..and we are all happy and thankful you didn’t :) just my thoughts. also hereby i celebrate the freedom of choice, of independent, uninfluenced right we should all get with birth but many of us sadly don’t have it. greetings

Kat Reply:

I think that freedom of choice is only one part of it. I believe strongly that it also takes courage and will to take the decision and stand by it, even in the face of adversity and exclusion.

  Maria wrote @ September 11th, 2010 at 22:40

A very powerful and moving story I hadn’t come across before. Thank you for sharing it!

Kat Reply:

Hi Maria, nice to see you again and thank you.

I don’t write much about my life any longer due to privacy and time constraints forcing me to focus primarily on practical info for everyone. But if you’re interested in other stories, look at the ‘breadcrumb’ function at the top of this article — in this case: Home –> Personal — click it, and all related articles are accessed.

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