Our principal set up a television on the back of our auditorium stage. A place the students couldn't access. We spent our prep period in front of the television. The newscast replayed the first plane going into the tower. It was awful. I remember the very audible gasp of the six of us who were watching. A gasp involuntarily given in unison. As if our bodies reacted when our minds just couldn't. It was all too horrible.
Yet we watched as long as we could. You couldn't not watch. And then our prep was over. We had to go back to class. We were told not to say anything to the children. It was now 9:50 when I picked up my friends from special.
What made that day all the more horrible was that our school, my home, is just an hour outside of New York. Our community is made up of many, many people who commute to New York on a daily basis for work. Most of our students have been in New York several times and are familiar with the city. Being so close to New York is a wonderful thing. It takes a minute to hop on the train and spend the day shopping, going to museums, seeing a Broadway show, visit friends and family that live in the city. On this day, living so close to New York was not a wonderful thing.
Slowly it began. The calls from the front office. Please send this friend down for early dismissal. A minute later, another call for another student. Then another and another. Parents had come to the school in droves, wanting to have their children with them on this horrible day. My friends started to get curious. Why were so many of our classmates going home? I remember joking that there must be a lot of doctors appointments that day. What else could I say? I was not allowed to say anything about what was actually happening and to be honest, they didn't need to know at that point. We ended up sending the remaining students home at the end of the day having said nothing. I don't know if that was or wasn't the right thing to do.
On this day, I remember teachers frantically calling spouses and family members who lived or worked in the city. You just wanted to know that your loved ones were okay. It was one of the only days in my teaching career where teaching was not the priority. We tried to keep things as normal as possible for the children, but how can that really be when there were fighter jets buzzing by our school making the windows rattle? Our town is on a flight path for Newark airport, so there are always planes overhead. On this day, there were no planes in the sky, only the military jets buzzing by. We must have held it together pretty well though, because at day's end the children were not yet aware that it was a life changing day.
I went home, and like people around the world, watched the news late into the night. The next morning, we found out that one of our school employees had a missing husband. Two of our students were missing a father. In the days to come, we would find that these men had passed away in this horrible tragedy. Our community and the surrounding communities lost many, many people to this horrific event. It seemed as if there were funeral after funeral for days. The obituary column in our local paper was no longer a column. It became a section unto itself. It was a soul deep sadness that we lived in.
Ten years later. I am with my friends this past Friday. My friends who were either not yet born or at the most were only months old on September 11, 2001. We had been instructed to complete a lesson about this day. My friends had many questions. I did my best to answer them honestly. I did my best to help them understand how we have learned so much from that horrible day and to reassure them that the lessons we learned have helped keep us safe these last ten years. I did my best to help them understand that they will see so much on television this weekend, and it's okay to feel a bit anxious, curious, nervous, confused. . . And I told them to talk about it. Talk to their parents. They will help them understand. And most of all, I did my best to help them understand that they are safe. In my heart I believe that, 100%n true or not, is what they needed to hear. At ten and elven, they should not live in fear. They should feel safe, that the adults around them are there to help them and keep them safe. So, that is the message I tried to help them know.
Today, I think of all those that we lost. I thank all those that responded, that helped. And, I pray that as a country, as a world, as a people, we find peace and understanding for each other and our differences.