Where were you when the world stopped turning that September day?
Alan Jackson pretty much captured my 9/11 experience. I was a teacher in a room of innocent children. Although I worked in a rural school, it was only 55 miles from New York City and over 60% of our families had at least one parent who worked in the city. I drove to school and taught my lessons just like any other day. When it came time for lunch, I considered eating it cold at my desk in order to catch up on work, but part of me felt restless and I decided to at least walk to the teacher’s room to heat up my food, then come back and work.
I rounded the first corner and saw a father dressed in scrubs quickly leading his daughter out. She looked up at him and kept asking, “But why do I have to leave?” He replied that he had to go to work. I really wondered what that father was thinking, I mean how do you pick up your child from school every time you need to work–they obviously needed a better child care plan.
As I waited for my turn in the microwave, I sat down to chat with some of the other teachers. Just then, our librarian came in. She asked if we had heard about what had happened in the city. None of us had. She said that a plane had hit the North Tower just about when school was starting. I had to stiffle a snicker–all i could picture was a small two passenger plane on a joy ride and wondered how in the world one could miss the Twin Towers and fly into them. She continued, “Then a second plane hit, now it is gone, the whole thing is gone.”
I dropped my fork and ran to the library. There one of the TV’s was broadcasting emergency breaking news. I stood there in disbelief–how? How did this happen? My jaw dropped open, I clenched my chest and cried out, “Oh, dear God, what has happened?” I stood there a moment more, not knowing what to do. I had only ten minutes left at this point, suddenly a horrifying thought flashed through my mind. My Godmother’s daughter was getting married in Washington, DC that weekend. Tuesday was the day that the family was flying in from Colorado and New Jersey to get everything set. The newscaster announced that there were many casualties at the Pentagon, there were fires and suspected bombs on the Mall, and at least fifteen planes were missing.
I ran to the office and waited in line to make a phone call. The phone lines were jammed and cell phones were out. I managed to get through to my Godmother’s home on the third try. As the answering machine beeped, my entire body began to convulse. I tried to speak, but pure fear like I had never known washed over me. All I could get out was, “Please call me!” The world seemed to be ending and I had five more classes to teach. I wiped off my cheeks, took several deep breaths, and walked back to my classroom. I never had eaten lunch, and I was under strict orders to say nothing. My heart was shattering and I felt completely incapable of properly taking care of my students–how could I protect them?
Throughout that long afternoon, student after student got called down to the office for pick up. The children knew something was going on, but I couldn’t tell them anything. When my student whose two parents are pilots got called to the office, my heart sunk to my ankles. I didn’t know if any of these children were being called down to hear devastating news. Our school staff was busy calling every parent to find out if they were safe. No children would be released until their family had been found–I just didn’t know if the ones being called down were the ones whose parents hadn’t survived. For hours, I had no idea what was happening in the world and I began to wonder if my little country school was all that remained of life as we knew it.
Amazingly, every parent was accounted for. Although there were losses in the larger community and extended families, everyone of our students went home to their mom and dad. After a day in the dark, I couldn’t stop watching the news. I was still trying to comprehend what had happened. My brother, in college in Hoboken, NJ, had seen the smoke from the collapsing towers. His best friend had watched from his Manhattan apartment the second plane hit the south tower as he called his father to let him know he was all right. Phones were out, internet down, the only programming on TV was the news which was still confusing and sketchy. I laid in bed, but did not sleep. My heart ached, but tears could not come.
The next morning, I got up in a fog and got ready. Life had changed, but we still did not know how much. As I drove to work, Lee Greensburg’s Proud to be An American came over the radio. The floodgates broke and I cried a thousand buckets. I didn’t know how I would get through the day, what I would say, how my students would be. Suddenly, teaching French and Spanish vocabulary and grammar didn’t seem to matter a whole lot. Everyone was driving slowly, cautiously; not a single horn was heard. My world was in mourning.
I dried off my tears and plunged ahead. My students were shell shocked, lesson plans went out the window and we just talked. They asked so many questions for which I had no answer to give. By the end of the week I was depleted, but their homeroom teachers were so happy. School had just started the week before, the homeroom teachers were still new to the students; but I had been there World Language teacher for two years already. They spilled their entire hearts and souls to me. The other teachers were relieved that they were talking, because none of the students wanted to talk in the other classes.
My husband and I had been planning our wedding and honeymoon. We decided to take a dream trip, sail over on Cunard Line QEII and then spend a week touring Ireland and England before flying home. The brochure for this extravaganza arrived September 12th–I looked at it and told my fiancé, “I just can’t!” We threw it into the trash and went back to the drawing board. When it came down to it, the only place I felt safe was my own car. We decided to drive to Nova Scotia and although it wasn’t our dream vacation, it was wonderful and we are still happy we did it.
My wedding tiara came in that same week. On Saturday, I drove to the post office, postcard in hand to claim it. As I stood on a line of at least twelve people, I was stuck by the fact that it was dead silent. You could have heard a pin drop, the shock had not worn off–if anything it had deepened as the magnitude of the attack set in. My Godmother made it safely to Washington, it had taken until Thursday to get through to her because even land lines crashed. The wedding was on, with less than half the guest able to make it.
My then fiance and I joked that we should just get married right then and there, all the dinners were paid for and details set. After all, I had my tiara, what else could I need? A double wedding what could be better?? It was the levity we needed.
That day is as real today as it was in the moments I lived it. I know that it affected our entire nation, but in my area it hit us personally. Everyone knew at least two people who had narrowly escaped, and another who never came home. Every conversation for years, came back to that day. We needed to talk about it. It still comes up, but once we hit ten years past, it stopped coming up as often.
As a political science major with a concentration in International Studies, I had heard the rumblings. I saw the signs. I knew something was coming, never could I had imagined this. I spent my junior year abroad and my year right after graduation working three blocks from the White House. My friends who were also involved in political science, saw it too. We talked about the warning signals and wondered what it meant. I wish we had known enough to have been able to stop it.
The world is rumbling again, even louder than fourteen years ago. Yet, so many are ignoring it. We have forgotten how it felt to know terror and fear. We have forgotten what it is like to have our country attacked and not know what will happen next. We have been blessed with an eerie peace that isn’t really peace, but isn’t really war. We have become complacent and once again think it could never happen here. When I lay awake at night, prayerfully wrestling with the happenings of our current day, I remember those sleepless nights when I just wanted to close my eyes and “pretend it didn’t happen” but I laid awake unable to make my mind forget. I beg God that my children will never know terror, that He will preserve us from the wolf at the door. There are many events that I still remember, but 9/11 is one I will never forget!