Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years Later

I feel a need to write about September 11, 2001.  If you don't want to read it, that's fine.

I'd just begun my third year of teaching in a very small town in Virginia.  Strangely enough, not two days before that in a class discussion, I had informed my rather sheltered female students that they should count themselves lucky that war had never truly touched their lives.  They'd agreed.  [I bet they're remembering me saying that, too.]  Little did we all know. 

I had sent a girl down to the book room to get a class set of a novel we were supposed to begin that day.  She came back after a while and told me that nobody was in there; a plane had hit one of the World Trade Centers and all the adults had gone to watch the coverage on TV.  In typical student fashion, the girls immediately begged me to go watch as well.  In typical teacher fashion, I told them we'd finish our grammar lesson, but then I'd let them go watch because I wanted them to be informed about what was going on in the world.  Two minutes later, a voice came on over the intercom and asked us to go to the chapel.  We knew then something had happened.

The headmistress informed us all that two planes had hit each of the Twin Towers in New York.  Not only that, a third plane had hit the Pentagon.  At this one of my teacher friends uttered a scream and ran from the room to call her mother, who worked there.  We were in northern VA; a few other girls had family members in that same building.  Thankfully, nobody lost anyone in that tragedy.  I remember feeling overwhelmed, wanting to know if my sister and friends who lived in NYC were all right, wanting to rush to the phone myself.  At that same moment I knew I had to put on a brave face for my students, just teenagers who quite suddenly had war thrust upon their formerly quiet lives.  The head of school sent the girls to their dorms or the cafeteria (I don't recall) and asked the teachers to stay. 

We made the decision to go on with classes as best we could for some sense of stability, even if we couldn't really teach lessons.  We'd resume after the next period technically began.  [G and N, am I getting this right?  Do you remember?]  As we filed out of the chapel, I remember looking at my fellow teacher, Leigh, and not having any words; neither of us did.  We simply reached out to each other and hugged tightly for a few long minutes, young twenty-somethings who'd realized how much our world had changed in such a short time.  I went to class and for the rest of the day the girls and I began the period talking about what had happened for part of the period, then attempting a lesson to achieve some sense of normalcy.  At lunch I rushed home and called my parents, desperate for news of my sister, A.  She'd managed to call my dad before the lines flooded and became unusable to tell him she was OK.  I remember turning on the TV and watching the coverage by myself, holding my dog Boo close and wondering why this had all happened, how were my other friends, would I know anyone who had died.  My friend T called to tell me our other dear friend L was safe, and I thought with a shock that L hadn't crossed my mind in the wake of worrying about my sister.  I felt terrible.

Strangely, my sister, abroad in Italy, had called my mother to find out what the hell happened before my mother had even turned on the TV or radio.  Her professor told her and her fellow students not to travel in large groups and to say to anyone who asked that they were Canadian.  The memorial e-mails began to fly the next day.  I remember sitting in my classroom alone the next afternoon after having looked at one particularly poignant group of pictures: stills from the tragedy combined with vigils that had sprung up around the world.  I put my head down on the keyboard and finally let myself weep for those who had died so needlessly and for the bizarre act of terrorism fueled by hate and religious zealotry.  A student came in to ask for something and I waved her off, unable to even look at her.  A day after that, the beep for the intercom came on in the middle of class again and we all froze, only to hear that some teacher had a phone call.  We all let out breaths of relief at the mundane announcement, recognizing at the same time how things had changed....never before had we felt fear at that innocuous little noise.

After the dust had literally and figuratively settled, I discovered I knew two girls who had perished:  Lindsay Morehouse, a year behind me in high school, and Cat Macrae, a girl I'd known a bit from summers in Southampton.  I don't bring up their names to be macabre or just to make a connection; I do it in remembrance of lives cut short.  We've all been touched by September 11 in some way.  Complacency of living in America--who would dare attack us?--has gone, replaced not by fear, at least in my mind, but realization that we cannot afford complacency of any kind.  I don't take things for granted as I used to.  I realize how fleeting life can be and how fortunate I am to have people in my life who love me as they do. 

So today I'll probably watch some of the coverage, hold my baby tightly, and kiss my husband a bit more than usual.  I'll look back on these ten years and what it's brought.  And I'll try to be grateful.

1 comment:

feather nester said...

Nice post, sweetie. And I say that being a little burned out on 9/11 media this week. This was poignant without being devastating to the reader (this reader, anyway). Thank you.