September 11, Eleven Years Later

This day is a day of remembrance, one that, like the day JFK was assassinated, we all remember exactly where we were, who we were with, and what we were doing at the moment we heard the news. On both days, I was in a classroom … one when I was a freshman in high school, and the other as a teacher responsible for my students’ emotional states.

Many of our students had been to New York City and knew of the Twin Towers height and status in the city. Some of them had relatives or friends of friends who were directly connected to someone who worked in the towers. Anxiety slowly began to build, but hysteria never occurred.

My own thoughts were distracted that day, as my dad was in a coma, and I wanted to get to the office after my first class to let the secretary know that if a phone call came in for me, I would need to be called on the intercom rather than notified through the more typical slip in my mailbox with a call back number. Her face was ashen when I walked into the office. Her son worked in the neighborhood of the towers, and she worried about his safety.

I had walked through the library to reach the office, and had notice several teachers and assistants clustered around the large television there… I hurried, as minutes between classes were few – I heard someone call my name, I kept walking quickly toward the office.

I spoke to the secretary for just a moment, letting her know of my dad’s status and my need for a quick telephone relay if a call should come in… she nodded, distracted herself. I went back through the library and this time stopped, just in time to see the second plane hit the second tower. Those who had been watching from the beginning filled me in quickly, and most were certain that it was a terrorist attack – a very well organized, carefully planned and executed terrorist group.

I continued on back to my classroom, wondering whether the students’ knew, where they would be, whether they’d been held in the earlier class or were moving on to the second period. Some had been in rooms with televisions … others had been in classes with computers in use … those who hadn’t heard in a classroom heard instead in the corridors between classes, but all that I met in my third period class half an hour later knew. A few were not present, and classmates told me that they had gone home with parents. A quick call down to the office confirmed a few dismissals, and others were found gathering in rest rooms, and were brought back into classrooms. The entire school had a moment of silence, and the principal spoke of taking care of each other, and allowing conversations for a short time, and then encouraged teachers and students to return to the business at hand: academics.

Teachers and students have dealt with sadness and grieving together in many of the years of my teaching career. Teachers do pass away, as do custodians, cafeteria workers, and others in the building. One year, when a fellow teacher had fought cancer for most of the school year and passed away the following fall, several parents had come in to cover classes so that teachers might attend her funeral service. When I returned to my class a few  hours later, I thanked the parent who had been with my students – she hugged me and said that she didn’t realize that we would all be returning to our classes, and admired our strength in being able to do so.

And that strength, and the compassion that our students had learned from their  parents and community, carried the day, and most students were there physically, emotionally, and behaviorally that day. We finished our day’s schedule, and at the end of the day, many hugs were shared as students left the corridors and headed for home.

Each of us left as soon after as possible, feeling the need to get home to our own families. My dad remained in his coma throughout the entire day and a portion of the next. We shielded him from the news of the attacks, and from the devastating statistics. As a retired fire chief, we knew how the loss of hundreds of firefighters, police, and emergency responders would affect him, and wanted him to regain some strength and cognition before telling him. When I sat with him and told him the story of 9/11 a few weeks later, he asked me if this was true, or just a story that I was telling him, to pass the time. He was quiet for a few moments when I confirmed that it was true, and then said “Then that is why I am still here … I was to pray for all of my brothers, for all of those people who suffered and died. I’ll continue to pray for them.”  He did that, for six more weeks, until he then passed away, and I’m sure he was welcomed home by many, many souls who preceded him.

And so this morning, Rick and I went to the fire station here in town for the 9/11 remembrance prayer and the traditional bell ringing … four rounds of five strokes.

Rest in peace, all who left us that day, and know that you will never be forgotten.

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