I didn’t want the eighth anniversary of 9-11 to go by without a bit of reflection.
Which always brings me to the sad, sweet voice of one of my very favorite country singers, Alan Jackson . . .
. . . and my very first year of teaching third graders. I was “in a classroom of innocent children.” And how their innocence changed on that fateful day!
"Where were you when the world stopped turning That September day? Out in the yard with your wife and children Or working on some stage in L.A.? Did you stand there in shock at the sight of that black smoke Risin' against that blue sky? Did you shout out in anger in fear for your neighbor Or did you just sit down and cry? Did you weep for the children who lost their dear loved ones And pray for the ones who don't know? Did you rejoice for the people who walked from the rubble And sob for the ones left below? Did you burst out in pride for the red, white and blue And the heroes who died just doin' what they do? Did you look up to heaven for some kind of answer And look at yourself and what really matters? I'm just a singer of simple songs I'm not a real political man I watch CNN but I'm not sure I can tell you The difference in Iraq and Iran But I know Jesus and I talk to God And I remember this from when I was young Faith, hope and love are some good things He gave us And the greatest is love. Where were you when the world stopped turning That September day? Were you teaching a class full of innocent children Or driving down some cold interstate? Did you feel guilty 'cause you're a survivor In a crowded room did you feel alone? Did you call up your mother and tell her you loved her? Did you dust off that Bible at home? Did you open your eyes and hope it never happened Close your eyes and not go to sleep? Did you notice the sunset the first time in ages Or speak to some stranger on the street? Did you lay down at night and think of tomorrow Or go out and buy you a gun? Did you turn off that violent old movie you're watchin' And turn on "I Love Lucy" reruns? Did you go to a church and hold hands with some strangers Did you stand in line and give your own blood? Did you just stay home and cling tight to your family Thank God you had somebody to love? And the greatest is love. And the greatest is love. Where were you when the world stopped turning That September day?...
Back to September 11, 2001 . . .
My first year of teaching elementary school children. I had arrived at school before everything happened, around 8 am. One little, quite precocious boy, arrived late to school that day, about 9:30. He announced to the class when he bounced into the room that a plane had hit the Twin Towers. Just into the second week of school, he was already known for his exuberance, story-telling, wild ideas, etc., and it seemed so far-fetched. I got him settled and checked in with the office. Was there any truth to this wild story of Brian’s? This was before Internet in the classroom; I was feeling cut off from the news, world events, etc. Yes, the school secretary told me over the phone intercom (so the kids couldn’t hear), a plane had indeed flown into one of the Twin Towers.
Next, Alan was dropped off my his Mom, also late. (I’m using made-up names here, but true story.) She confided to me in the hall that Alan’s dad, who worked in NYC, was on his way down the stairs of the Tower after the plane hit, so he was on his way home. Unbelievable, but relief, too. Alan’s dad was on his way home. . .
Announcement from the office, sent personally . . . Don’t let the children know what had happened . . . they’re small, innocent children . . . carry on with your day normally . . .
Yeah, right, carry on as if nothing happened . . . I had one child announce the outrageous unbelievable occurance to the class and he was now drawing a picture of a plan dropping bombs on a very tall building during our “Writers’ Workshop.” Another, whose father was there, but this child hadn’t breathed a word to anyone about it . . . and he wouldn’t for that entire day.
Another teacher at school, a dear friend, came into my classroom, wanting to check on her son who worked in NYC and was supposed to be at work in his office in one of the T.T. that day. She didn’t have a cell phone, office lines were tied up, could she borrow mine? With tears in my eyes and my hands shaking (which is in fact what’s happening to me right now as I write this), I handed her my phone and she went into the hall. I prayed her world wouldn’t change at that moment and I was also praying that Alan’s world wouldn’t change as he knew it. She walked in, still shaking, but with a bittersweet smile. Her son had not gone into work that day . . . oh, relief. How many people’s stories would be similar because of a change of plans on that fateful day, but also how much loss was still in the future, I had no idea of knowing at the moment . . .
A short time later . . .my class of 22 children and I are in the library, listening to a sweet, children’s story that the librarian is reading. Suddenly, the superintendent of schools arrived at the door and shooed us out of the library. I was to find out later, that in our elementary school at the time, the only working TV to the outside world for news was in the library, and she wanted to check the news. The poor, sweet librarian thought she had done something wrong!
Through the grapevine, I sound learned that the second Tower was also hit and that the city was PURE CHAOS. Had Alan’s dad made it to safety? What about EVERYONE ELSE?
By recess time, I was on the playground with my students, desperately seeking information from my husband as I called him on my cell. Grim, sad, unbelievable, you just can’t imagine. . .
I had no idea at the moment of the true tragedy of it all. I kept thinking of my students and how Alan’s life could be forever changed on that day. Had his dad made it out? Would he be fatherless? How would I help him through this school year, which had just barely begun?
I thought of my own children. I wanted to be with them. I thought of friends, family, and so colleagues who worked in New York and whose family and friends traveled there daily. How many people had this affected? As we all know, the true monstrous act that unfolded affected thousands of people, people who were innocent and who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time; people whose job it was to help others, and people who jumped into the spirit of helping each other on that fateful day.
The strange thing with Alan was that he never mentioned it all day. All I could think of was . . .Did his father make it? Is he still alive? I never heard a word from his mother during the day either, no message. I imagined her heart was breaking. At the end of the day, Alan’s mother came to pick him up. I had actually never met her before. She came to the door, with tears in her eyes and shaking. I was in the same shape. We just hugged. She whispered in my ear that somehow Alan’s dad made it to the ground, even with the second building being hit, and he was still trying to get out of the city, but he was alright. He just wasn’t home yet. We held on a bit longer. Thank goodness, our little Alan did still have his Dad. But his life had changed, everyone’s life had changed . . . forever. . . no more innocence. No more “innocent children” as Alan Jackson sings it.
As tears fall on my keyboard as I write this, I send my sincere thoughts and prayers to everyone who was not has lucky as little Alan on that fateful day . . . .