Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ten Years Later...

WTC Twin Towers, pre-9/11 NYC

2001 began for me as 2000 had ended-unemployed. I had quit my job as a 7th grade teacher the previous spring and had spent the summer, fall, and winter looking for a job without success. I even spent 4 months in Atlanta looking for work. While there, I got a phone call from my former school district to return to Natchez for an interview. To make a long story short, I didn't get the job. A few days later, I saw an ad in the newspaper for an English teacher. I thought what the heck. A couple of days after the interview, I was hired.

That fall, I began teaching again after a year away from the classroom. Everything started well. I enjoyed the students who were a rather rambunctious bunch, but I enjoyed them. Because our school is rather small, I had to share my classroom with another teacher. She had the room 1st period, while I camped out in the teacher's lounge. While it is in the middle of the building, it is practically a wasteland when it comes to receiving information-no tv, no radio.

My students had an essay due that Tuesday, September 11th. As I was leaving the lounge, a couple of the boys jokingly responded that they didn't have their essays, because they had left them in the World Trade Center, and they had disappeared. I thought that it was a rather odd comment and took it to be a failed attempt at sarcasm. Then, another student came down the hallway crying. I'll be honest. I sighed, "thinking what is the drama of the day." She asked could she go to the office to call home, because her uncle worked in the World Trade Center. Although I was a bit irked, I asked her, "What is the deal with the World Trade Center today." After all, we live in Mississippi, and it's really rare to hear the kids mention anything about New York unless they were there for vacation or talking football. This was the third mention. She then told me that a plane had hit The World Trade Center. I couldn't believe it. I sent her to the office and went into the classroom to turn on the radio (I didn't have a computer in my room at the time, and the radio was very handy). I turned it to the news, and we listened together as they announced that a second plane had hit the World Trade Center tower. I remember yelling "What is going on?"

We sat together in silence listening as the the Pentagon was hit. I remember beginning to cry and being more than a little angry with those boys and told them as such. I had just watched a documentary on The Twin Towers, and I was telling them how many people worked and visited that place daily over 50,000. I remember telling them that those people at the top were not going to make it out, that there would be no way to save them, and that what my students did was not only grossly disrespectful but offensive. Then, my thoughts turned to Grand Gulf, a nuclear plant not far from Natchez. Then, there was an announcement over the intercom.

Our school only had two classes wired with cable. The seniors and juniors were to report to one, while the sophomores and freshmen were to report to the other. I remember walking my seniors to the class. I had never heard the hallways that quiet with so many students in them. We all went into the room with our eyes transfixed on the images of the burning buildings as Tom Brokaw was giving us updates about the plane crash in Pennsylvania. I remember some of the girls holding each other and crying as they could now see what we had been listening to on the radio. We sat and watched in stunned disbelief as the towers fell one after another. The reactions were gasps, "oh, my gods," "unbelievable" "no way" "I can't believe it."


I could believe it. I remembered the 1993 bombing. These kids were only about 8 years old when that happened. I remembered Oklahoma city. I knew bad things like this could happen. We all knew that something like this could happen. We knew that terrorism could happen in our country, but none of us actually believed it would happen. None of us knew it would be to the extent it was that day. It was a horrible day. As we filed out the rooms later, it felt as if all of the energy had drained from us. We had lunch, but no one really wanted to eat. As the students left campus that day the school was eerily quiet.

My grandmother and I had a satellite at the time, and our "local" channels were from New York. I remember watching non stop hoping that they would find survivors. My grandmother was 16 when Pearl Harbor was attacked. She said that that was horrible, but this was just...she literally had no words to describe what had happened.

I remember the prayer services, the students being kinder to one another, but mostly, just going through the motions. I remember worrying about what was going to happen next, but eventually, life moves forward. Since that day, I've lost my grandmother, four students, my god-brother, and three co-workers who were still with me that day. Life and death still happen.

We learned we were stronger than we thought that day. We saw everyday people become heroes that day. We saw for a brief moment in time that we could unite as a people. The anniversary of 9/11 is tomorrow. It seems as though we are more divided than ever. Almost 3,500 people lost their lives that day. In death, they united us. We should remember that. They were parents, brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, grandsons, granddaughters, nieces, nephews, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. They were friends. They were first responders. They are us. Let us remember that tomorrow. Let's not have to have a national tragedy to bring us together again...

"We cannot change the past, but we can change our attitude toward it.
Uproot guilt and plant forgiveness.
Tear out arrogance and seed humility.
Exchange love for hate ---
thereby, making the present comfortable and the future promising."
---Maya Angelou

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