I thought long and hard about what to write in commemoration of the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Ten years. Somehow, I can’t think much further than my disbelief that it has been a decade since Day Zero; no other event so sharply cracks American history into Before and After. 9/11/01 is the day on which America was both destroyed and reborn. Like a phoenix, she rose from the ashes of Ground Zero, the Pentagon, and a lonely field in Pennsylvania.
I find that I don’t have the words to adequately express all that I feel, but what I hold in my heart today can be summarized as this: love loudly and live proudly; let our brethren’s loss not have been in vain.
I would, however, like to share with you a couple of particularly moving 9/11 posts written by friends. The first is written by Keiko Zoll of Hannah Wept, Sarah Laughed. She interviewed her father, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist, to share with us his account of 9/11: Remembered Through the Lens. The second, I Remember, was written by Kristin of Dragondreamer’s Lair.
Because I can’t find new words for today, I’m also going to share with you the two posts that I wrote in honor of 9/11 in previous years. The first is just a picture (of a picture):
The other is the post I wrote in ’08; it is my where were you? account of how 9/11 unfolded.
“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” during 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. Many teachers were left floundering, especially those who had to remediate in an area that was outside of their teaching concentrations. We all 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 he was not yet fully 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 was 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 telephone we watched together, equally chilled by the frenetic moment-to-moment updates. I felt as if I were 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 until that point had only threaten 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 the school, 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
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 or 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 likely 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. 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. Many businesses had closed. Despite this, there was a flurry of traffic headed towards the military base. It was apparent that it had come down on alert and that all soldiers in the area who were not 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 the Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis that was behind his pending discharge, 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 a harbinger of war. I knew that this time, soldiers were going to be 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 utter a word he said, “I don’t have to go. They called me to come in, and then called back about ten minutes later and said I don’t have to go.” I felt a significant measure of relief for our personal lives, but the 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 as a whole.
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. I think of how the details of who, why, when, where, and how became known.
I think of how the deployments of soldiers from the base began months 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 then put them on the students. They’re for identification, just in case…. I think of the chill that rolled through me when the principal’s voice trailed off with the morbid weight of the unfinished sentences.
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 our base to be killed in the war.
I think of how America, numbed with loss, wept on that fateful morning ten years ago today.
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 the attacks. Though at half-mast, our flags waved boldly,and our hearts and minds were 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 and their families…