Undaunted

“Teachers, we need to turn off the televisions. We need to
stay focused on teaching today, so make sure all televisions are off.”

The assistant principal made this announcement during
Extended Learning Time (ELT), which was a 40 minute period of “remediation” in
which all teachers, no matter what regular subject taught, had to remediate
students in either Reading or Math. From the perspective of us teachers, ELT was a tremendous waste of
time because we didn’t have a remediation curriculum to follow and many
teachers were left floundering, especially those who had to remediate in an
area that was outside of their teaching concentration. We felt the time would
have been better spent divided among the other five class periods. Three or
four teachers in the school had been allowing the students to watch television
during ELT, and the week before, the staff as a whole was told that we were not
permitted to do this. So when the announcement to turn off the televisions was
made, I didn’t think much of it. I was teaching, after all, and I thought to
myself that if administration knew who the offenders were, they should tell
them personally and not interrupt class with such reprimands.

About twenty minutes later, ELT was over and my students
went to their elective classes, leaving me with my hour-long planning period.
As I passed by the faculty lounge, I stopped and quizzically looked at the
teachers inside whom, slack-jawed and tearful with various shades of terror
coloring their faces, were staring up at the mounted television. In the couple
of seconds it took to get from the hallway into the lounge I thought earthquake; earthquake indeed it was –
my world was shaken as my mind absorbed the replay of the first tower falling
and of the live feed of the second tower, still aflame amid ominous billows of oily
smoke. Words from the crawls and newscaster’s narration glared – ATTACK, 9/11, WTC,
ALERT, PENTAGON.  I had barely processed the
grim data as I made my way to the phone in a panic. I didn’t even see enough to
know of the hijackings. Missiles. War?
Frank. I had to call Frank, who was
at home with our not-quite three month old twins. He was in the final stages of
his medical retirement from the Army and was only required to report for a
24-hour duty every other weekend, but wasn’t yet officially discharged. In a
fraction of a moment my mind overloaded with levels of grief and panic – for
the people whose lives were already lost, those who were surely struggling to
live, those who were waiting to die, and of all the deaths I knew were yet to
come from what I knew would be impending war. I was terrified in the global
sense for those in New York,
but also for the implicated affects it might have on my personal life and
community, which is largely military.

“My God, Frank! Have you heard? Have you seen it…are you
watching TV? We’re under attack!”

No, he hadn’t heard and had not had the TV on all morning.
“Honey, calm down. What do you mean ‘we’re under attack?’ What cha-….Oh, God…what
the hell is going on?”

Tethered by the telephones we watched together, equally
chilled by the frenetic moment to moment updates. I felt as if I was drowning
in the flood of information about the hijackings, the other two crashes, the
constant replays of the first tower falling, rescue efforts, and the FAA’s
scramble to account for other planes and get them safely on the ground. And
then – as we sat in stunned silence, the second tower came crashing down.

I only remember whispering, Oh, my God, oh my God, oh my God and feeling the tears that had
been threatening finally break free and run. I don’t remember what else we
talked about – I don’t think we said much. I remember asking, “Will you have to
go in?” and him replying that he wasn’t sure. I do remember that I wanted to go
home. I needed to be there with my babies and my husband. Not able to leave, I
at least wanted to be alone. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I wanted to be
alone with my shock and my fear, with my grief and barely-checked panic. I
retreated to the seclusion of my empty classroom and continued to watch with
rising horror.

I turned the television off when the students returned. By
then, they had heard various reports and I was bombarded with questions about the
attacks and whether or not it meant we were going to war. Majority of my
students’ fathers and mothers are military and they had many of the same fears
that I did. I told them what I knew and also what I didn’t know. I knew that
soon, yes, there would like be a war but I didn’t know with whom and how soon.
I looked into their eyes, many which were clouded with worry and fear, and
wondered how many of them were about to have their lives turned around.

We carried on with the usual school day with changing
classes, but teaching was useless. Parents rushed to the school to sign out
their students, and by the end of the day, I had just four students remaining
in my last class. As soon as the last bus was off campus we were allowed to
immediately go home.

The drive home was eerie; the sense of hunkering down to
wait and watch for whatever was coming was
heavy, but it was laced with a sense of urgency. The city seemed to be
simultaneously in a rush and at a standstill. Parking lots at many stores were
unusually empty and many businesses had closed. Despite this, there was a
flurry of traffic headed towards the military base. It was apparent that the
base had come down on alert and that all soldiers in the area who weren’t
already on post were making their way there. Frank, Frank, Frank – would he have to go, or wouldn’t he? I didn’t
think he would; due to his MS diagnosis he was considered non-deployable and
was even held back from going with his unit to Bosnia a few months prior. But this
was different. This wasn’t  a
rapid-deployment combat mission to Kuwait which was later downgraded to a
training exercise like the one he was gone five months for in 1996 – this was
the harbinger of war, and I knew that this time, soldiers were being sent to
die.

My heart dropped when I burst through the door and saw Frank
sitting on the couch fully dressed in his BDU’s. Before I had the chance to say
a word he said, “I don’t have to go. They called me to come in, then called
back about ten minutes later and said I don’t have to go.” There was a
significant measure of relief for our personal lives, but space of worry that
was alleviated was quickly refilled with spillover fear of how the attacks
would continue to affect my students, our community, and the country.

When I think of 9/11, I think of those memories, and of the
tenuous nature of the days thereafter – of the climbing death toll, of the
family members looking for their lost loved ones, of the details of who, why,
when, where, and how became known, of how the deployments began well in advance
of the official declaration of war. Many students’ parents and teachers’
husbands came down on deployment alert on one day and would be gone 24 hours or less
later. I think of how once the war
began with its blitz of shock and awe, my school, because of its close proximity to the base, had to implement an emergency impending attack procedure : If
we have to evacuate, we’ll leave on the buses to minimum safe distance away
from the base to the staging area. We’ll remain on the buses. Each team has one
of these emergency envelopes inside which are these plastic wristbands and
Sharpies. Take roll on the buses, write the students’
names on these bands and
put them on the students. They’re for identification, just in case….
I
think of a student I taught, who learned in the school conference room from his
mother and the accompanying chaplain, that his father was the first soldier
from the base to be killed in the war. I think of how America, numbed
with loss, wept on that fateful morning one year ago today.

911
But America– oh, how we rose from that grief-stricken kneel. America rushed into action to donate blood, to volunteer in recovery and clean-up efforts,
to donate money and services to those affected by t
he attacks. Though at
half-mast, our flags waved boldly, our hearts and minds imprinted with the
stars and stripes and
the freedom they represent.

America shook her mighty fist; Don’t tread on me, she said, and we
staunchly gave the collective finger to those who tried, but failed to cripple
our country. United, we stood again, strengthened by defiant shows of
patriotism. Though injured, we did not
fall. 

 

 


In honor of those who were lost…

6 Comments

  1. Alicia on September 11, 2008 at 5:13 pm

    very moving post, you have me in tears. Like I have said to so many blogs today, I think most ppl remember where they were and what they were doing on this day, with a memory like no other day.



  2. Io on September 11, 2008 at 5:45 pm

    I’ve been reading so many of these today and each time it is just as sad.



  3. anymommy on September 12, 2008 at 12:36 am

    You captured that day in words so well. I just didn’t have the words for it, but I’ve cried and remembered reading many excellent posts today. Thank you.



  4. niobe on September 12, 2008 at 8:57 am

    You’ve absolutely said what so many of us were feeling — the confusion, the shock, the terror.
    My son was nine years old at the time and, sadly enough, 9/11 is one of the first non-family or school related events that he can remember.



  5. tash on September 12, 2008 at 11:24 am

    Really spot-on, gut-wrenching post, Moxie. Beautifully written, too.
    What a wretched day, weekend, weeks, months, years . . . .



  6. We Always Win: Written in Honor of Boston on April 15, 2013 at 11:05 pm

    […] On the afternoon of 9/11, Frank perched on the edge of the couch in his Army fatigues, having been called in to report on base. Burning rubble and replays of explosions were on the screen, but the television isn’t what Frank was watching. At his feet, asleep in their carriers were the twins, just a week shy of three months old. […]