Sunday, September 11, 2011

10th Anniversary of September 11th

On the morning of September 11, 2001 I was in a meeting with parents at the middle school I was working at the time as a history teacher in northwestern New Jersey. When the meeting ended before class at approximately 8:50am EST I walked into my classroom where the aide I worked with was online on my classroom computer. She said, “Have you heard?” I replied, “Heard what?” and she proceeded to tell me all about the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

I was frozen with fear and confusion. Attacked on our own soil and they got to the Pentagon? I thought for sure we’d be at war. I was frightened for our safety, our country’s way of life, and for my husband’s safety. I quickly picked up a phone in the teacher’s lounge to try and reach him on his cell phone. The phone lines were over capacity and I was unable to get my call through. I was frantic but realized I had to pull it together for my students who were starting to file in from the buses headed toward homeroom.

A quick call from the office contained instructions to tell the students nothing. I obeyed, but was in a fog. I put on my signature smile, gathered my courage, and began my day’s lesson. From that point on, every period, students were called out of my class for dismissal. Parents, fearful and needing to hug their children, arrived in droves to claim what was theirs. Wide-eyed children stared at me imploringly for answers or information of some kind. I had none to give. The day was endless, the information was non-existent. Not until lunchtime, about 11:45a, did I finally get word from my husband, a land surveyor who sometimes worked very close to New York City, that he was safe and far from harm’s way. He then told me he had heard from my sister-in-law that my brother was safe, too. I had, in my blinding worry for my husband, forgotten entirely that my brother worked in a bank directly across from the Twin Towers. He took the ferry to Wall Street and walked the short distance to his building. On that fateful morning, during his ride on the ferry, he saw smoke coming from the Towers. When he landed and headed to his building he could sense the fear and panic around him. By the time he had reached the bank he saw, firsthand, the horror before him. In short, people trapped in the burning towers were taking their fates into their own hands and he witnessed these acts of desperation. My brother abandoned the area. He headed north to mid-town where his brother-in-law’s office was located. He made it there safely. The sights he observed, however, still haunt him until this day.

My husband and I, like most Americans, came home from work and perched in front of the television. We absorbed the news, watched the Towers collapse time and again, and learned more about the other attacks (i.e. the Pentagon and the flight in Pennsylvania). I became angry, morose, and, soon, the hopefulness I had once felt with all of the volunteer doctors, turned to despair when hour after hour fewer and fewer survivors were found. I was overwhelmed with grief and the crimes against humanity. The next morning I reported to work and was told we needed to be comforting and a source of normalcy for our students. We discussed topics ranging from hate crimes to volunteerism. When I returned home that afternoon I took a walk to try to clear my head. It was never more quiet; the planes that usually droned by high overhead were silenced – no air traffic. Only once or twice did we see some massive military-looking aircraft sail past.

Before September 11, 2001 my husband and I had decided to start a family to no avail. The days after September 11th left me feeling hopeless, saddened, and pessimistic about the future. Until, about two days later, I rallied and grew angry that “they” had tried to alter our lives here in the United States. Our president said the best course of action was to resume our normal lives. This made complete sense. So, we started living again. Instead of watching the endless string of news, horrific stories of lives lost and forever altered, I had to finally force myself to watch a movie. I needed an escape from the heavy state of affairs we were living through. That helped and started the healing. And, although it took a bit more time, by Christmas 2001 we knew we were expecting our first child. He arrived in August 2002. The best way we knew to heal and capture optimism for the future was to start the family we always wanted.

Living through that kind of catastrophic event changes one permanently. And, although I never forget the tragedies of that day, celebrate the everyday heroes who rose to the occasion to help countless others, I find it impossible to watch the reading of the names. It’s too much for me. I have to find other ways to process and honor the history. Sharing my story is the way I’m doing my part.

God Bless America and God Bless the men and women who gave of themselves on September 11, 2001. And God Bless the children who survive and who will try to make the world a better place.

1 comment:

  1. I spent the night before the attacks driving across Spain from Barcelona to Pamplona, when I started getting text messages in the morning about one two three and four planes being hijacked I thought they were leading to some kind of joke. The friend i was staying with came home from work at lunch time and woke me up and showed me the photo's on the internet, I thought he was telling me about some new action movie. That evening we went for dinner and there was a TV in the bar where we were eating and that is where the full horror of what was occurring struck us both. We couldn't even start our meal the whole restaurant went quite when the news came on and the clips of the towers going down were shown.

    My thoughts with all those who are affected by these terrible events, all those who rose to the occasion of dealing with the aftermath and all those who have served their nations in the military fall out from these events.