Saturday, September 10, 2011

September mourn

I wasn't alive when John F.  Kennedy was shot.  I was in middle school when the space shuttle Challenger exploded.  And along with pretty much everyone else in the world, I remember exactly what I was doing when I heard about the plane crashing into the first tower on September 11, 2001.

That morning was already an emotional one for me.  My grandpa Ted was in the hospital, and I hadn't slept well thinking about him.  He had always been one of the biggest constants in my life, and after a particularly hard couple of years, I wasn't sure what I would do without him.  I arrived at school that morning pretty early so I could try to get a jump on the day.  A few minutes before school started, I happened to stick my head into another teacher's room for a moment, and her television was on.  She said, "Something is happening in New York." We both stood, frozen, in front of the television and watched video of the first plane making impact on the North Tower.  The next hour or so is a blur in my mind.  Did I teach?  Did I talk to the kids about what was happening?  If I did, what did I say, because I certainly had no idea what was going on.

I was a traveling teacher that year, and after my first period class at the high school, I went to the middle school.  As soon as I arrived there, I was met with completely shocked faces.  While I was at the high school, the South Tower had been hit by a second plane.  I was already close to tears that I knew I couldn't really shed and hearing about the second tower was like a physical blow.  We were in the middle of standardized testing that day, so we were told not to talk to the kids about what had happened because it would upset them and they may not perform well on the tests.  It turned out that all the subterfuge was for naught as some high-ranking muckety-muck decided to scrap all the ISTEP testing done that day due to the acts of terrorism that had occurred.  But we didn't know that at the time, so instead of having a heartfelt and honest conversation with my students, I had to keep putting off their questions and pleading ignorance.  That was one of the worst things for me; I think there are teachable moments everywhere that need to be acknowledged if we hope to create better people.

The rest of the day was spent as if in a fog: people walked slower, talked slower, and looked as if the weight of the world were on their shoulders.  I couldn't pull myself away from the television that night although the vision of the planes and all their destruction was permanently burned into my memory.  It was almost as though I had to continue watching to truly believe that it had happened.  I was also trying so hard to understand why.  Ten years later, I understand the logistics of the why, but I don't think I'll ever be able to understand the emotions behind it.

Two days later, my grandpa died.  Some of my family members couldn't make it to the funeral because the airlines were still grounded.  I'll never forget my mom saying that she was glad my grandpa was unaware of what occurred the day of the attacks so he never knew what happened to the country he loved so much.  The full impact of September 11 was a little lost on me at the time because I had to put aside national grief to make way for my personal grief.  The United States was mourning the loss of a certain innocence and the idea of invulnerability; I just missed my grandpa.

 The ten year anniversary has weighed heavily on my mind, and I think it has everything to do with my kids.  I'm watching them grow and learn new things every single day, and I wonder how I'll explain the significance of September 11 to them some day.  Will they be scared?  Will they think it would never happen again?  Will they want to travel the world or will the thought of terrorism make that impossible?  I don't know the answers, and I probably never will.  I want to raise children who are aware, but I refuse to raise my kids with fear.  The world is a pretty crazy place, but there are still so many good things about it.  I wish Lottie and Dallas safety and the confidence to face whatever is coming their way.  I hope they never have a "where were you?" moment in their lifetimes.  Each night that I put my kids to bed and get to tell them how much I love them is a good day to me.  I hope that they learn not take anything for granted, because if 9/11 taught me anything, it's that anything is possible, and nothing is certain.


  1. Well said, friend. Very powerful and impactful words.

  2. I can't imagine being in the teacher role on that day. You have to remain in charge, in control, when all you want to do is break down. Thank you fo sharing your experience.