I was, in the words of Alan Jackson's song, "teaching a class full of innocent children." My fourth graders and I were proceeding with our morning routine when a fellow teacher came to my door and motioned through the glass window for me to come outside. Julie told me that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City and there were reports one had crashed in Washington, D.C. Since we were an elementary campus, our principal did not want any televisions or computers on while children were in rooms, so they would not see the events unfold. I called Joey and told him to turn on the television. He was at home grading exams and he had not turned on the tv or radio, yet. I had to go back in the classroom and spend the rest of the day acting as if nothing unusual was happening. During our conference periods, we covered our door windows or made sure our screens were out of view of children passing by the rooms, so we could watch the events unfold. Like most people, I watched news at every opportunity for the next few weeks.
I've always thought the words Alan Jackson penned following September 11, 2001 captured perfectly the thoughts and feelings of so many of us who witnessed the tragedy through our televisions. Ours was not the same experience as those who lost loved ones or those who lived in New York City, Washington, D.C., or Pennsylvania.
The next day, my children entered the classroom with an air of solemnity. They wanted to talk about what they had seen with their parents while watching the evening news. They were worried about me. Patriotism was a major part of our class. They knew I would be upset over the news.
I was to experience it all with my students. It was my second year with them; I was their third grade teacher the year before, so I knew them well. We talked about heroes and bravery. I taught them that heroes can feel fear, but they move past it and they don't let it stop them from doing what is right. We learned about the CIA, Secret Service, Air Force One and Marine One, in addition to the first responders in New York City and Washington, D. C. They made banners to send to the Air Force One pilots and CIA since they figured people probably didn't remember them and the sacrifices they made each day on their jobs. I made a "Let's Roll," banner to hang above out door, after telling them the story of Flight 93 passenger, Todd Beamer, who prayed with the Our Father with the airplane operator before joining the other passengers in rushing the cockpit. I had that banner in my classroom as long as I taught after that.
I remember one of my students' parents coming to school to speak with me about her son. She was horrified that, while watching the news on the evening of September 11, when he saw the towers collapse his response was, "Cool." She realized he had seen so much destruction in movies and video games that he had no concept that this was real and that real people were murdered in the tragedy. She spoke to him frankly and bluntly. He began to understand, but she was unsure of what she had done. She wasn't alone. None of us knew how to process it all, what to say, what to do. It was all too horrific to be processed. Our country, our way of life, our sense of security has been shattered and we turned to God and each other for comfort and guidance.
It is still upsetting to me that no religious leaders were not invited to the World Trade Center memorial ceremony. In the days following September 11, 2001, people filled churches across the country. They joined together to pray. People were helped by religious non-profit groups. Goodness, one can just take a secular historical view and understand what an integral part of New York City culture and history is religion, particularly Catholicism and Judaism.
On this tenth anniversary, I remember those who were murdered, those who rushed into the buildings to save others, those who rushed the cockpit of a plane headed to Washington, D.C., those loved ones who were left to mourn, and those who still suffer from their experiences. I pray that the memorials in Pennsylvania and New York City will bring comfort and peace to the loved ones left behind.
May we never forget September 11, 2001. God Bless America.