I awoke in the wee hours of the morning to a sky that was crying. It seems to me each year it weeps on this day, as if the heavens are grieving all those lost 17 years ago. The clouds hang low, full of tears which overflow. The gray blanket covers the land creating a kind of shield of sorrow. I used to could feel it coming weeks ahead. My heart is my calendar, but each year the time has shortened, until today I didn’t realize what day it was until the rain on my roof reminded me. I remember not being able to comprehend the statement which came knocking at my classroom door that morning.
“America is under attack.”
“I’m sorry, what did you say?”
“Many planes have been hijacked. New York is under attack. Do not tell your students.”
My brain wasn’t able to process this information, because hijacked planes where not used as bombs before this day. Hijackers flew planes, threatened governments, and made demands. They did not fly into buildings.
I continued to teach. Children were being checked out by the dozens. Because I was a co-teacher and there were two of us in the room, I left my students to go see what was going on. Walking down the hall, a teacher whispered, “The tower fell.” I had no idea what she was talking about. It was like thick fog in my head, grasping at ideas that were un thought of…could not be referenced to any past experiences. No connections. No reference points. Going into the office where a TV was on in the back room was surreal. Watching the tower fall on a repeated loop seemed intentionally planned so that the visual could inform the brains of the audience. This wasn’t a movie. This wasn’t a prank. This was reality. A new reality.
Nausea inducing reality.
My pallor silently announced things were not well to my team teacher when I returned. I took over the kids so she could go watch the nightmare. By the time she got back, the second tower had fallen. We plodded on through our lessons with pretend smiles. Over the lunch break, we camped in front of the TV, not the least bit hungry. It was the longest school day I have ever been through, caring for my students and praying my own children were safe. The unknown dimension and scope of what might be coming was a wisp that floated through my thoughts until banished forcibly.
The next day was worse. Scared children arrived looking up to the sky. They couldn’t concentrate on their work for worry that a plane would fly into the school building. There was still so much unknown at the time, we didn’t know how to explain to 8 year olds what was happening. We didn’t even know ourselves. The order to keep all televisions off was heeded.
We taught all day, and watched news all night. This went on for months. We were traumatized as individuals and as a country.
Then, many years later, our first students arrived who had never heard of 9-11. They were born after 2001. They hadn’t seen the news clips, or experienced the trauma. There was only a vague sense that something important happened on this day. A moment of silence, the closest thing to prayer you will find in a public school, was the only indicator that whatever happened was bad. As I bowed my head and prayed during the minute, I felt their little eyes on me. When tears rolled down my cheeks each year, they responded with stunned silence that the teacher was crying. Afterwards, they quietly asked questions about my tears and I answered them as best as I could.
The memory will never fade, even though the events pass on down into history. The unimaginable made real. The loss of life. The remembrance, year after year as time marches on. What happened on 9-11 changed our world to pre and post. It made it a scarier place to live.
Yet, it also brought us together as a country. It demonstrated the best of us…as people caring for people. Unlikely heroes were created that day. We loved our neighbors more than before. There may not have been unity in all the governmental offices, but there was unity among the people. We were kinder to one another. We cried more easily. We knew our hearts were broken and we extended grace. There were tragically beautiful stories which helped us to truly SEE one another, perhaps for the first time. The treasure out of the tragedy.
Unfortunately, healing has been elusive. The goodwill short lived. Division has torn our bonds of unity apart. Rather than reach out to one another, we turn our backs and walk away, or yell in each other’s faces. It is a sad day, indeed. Meanwhile, the evil that invaded and violated us is laughing, knowing he is winning the day. Celebrating our discord, because he knows when we are separated we are weak, and when we are weak he wins. He doesn’t have to lift a finger, because we will destroy ourselves.
On this day of sorrow and grief, I choose to remember the unity. As an act of remembrance to those lost, I look for the goodwill and heartfelt connection which pulled our country out of the pit. The thousands upon thousands who worked together for one cause. The ones who reached out to others in need. Those who fed the hungry, and clothed the weak without question. It was a moment of clarity, of what is truly important, and what doesn’t matter. It is my prayer that our country will choose to remember what we learned on 9-11.