As usual, September 11 makes me stop and remember. I doubt any of us who were alive that day can hear the date or write 9/11 and not think about it. Every time I look at a clock and see the time is 9:11 I think of it. And I remember how it felt. Oddly enough, there was no fear for me that day (and if you know me, you know how I struggled with fear back then.) There was only this overwhelming feeling that nothing would ever be the same again, of putting one foot in front of the other only because we had to do it or drop where we stood. It was one of those moments Beth Moore talks about, when you wish you had a rewind button. You will forever remember where you were standing, what you were doing, how that instant felt.
I was teaching a ninth grade Civics class that was to end at 10:10. It was about 9:50 when the knock came on my classroom door and I opened it. The science teacher pulled me into the hall, and very teacher from my floor was standing there. I’m ashamed to say my first thought flew to one of our students. We had a kid I’ll call Johnny who had made quite a name for himself already that year. I couldn’t fathom what he’d done to get all of us called out of class at the same time.
The science teacher looked at all of us and simply said, “We’ve been attacked.” Who’s we? Fort Bragg? The school? It was early and rumors were flying, and I’ll never forget her saying, “The World Trade Center’s been hit by a plane. The Pentagon’s been hit. There was a car bomb at the Mall in Washington. They think the Capitol has been blown up. And there’s a plane missing.”
I don’t know how long we all stood there and stared at her before one of the English teachers said, “You’re lying.” But we knew she wasn’t. The other English teacher wanted to know if we should tell the students. That’s when I looked up and realized that my kids could see me through the window on the door and every single one of them was staring silently. (Twenty-three ninth graders are never silent when the teacher is not in the room.) The decision was made for us. We had to tell the high schoolers.
When I walked back in the room, they all watched me and didn’t say a word. I stood there and looked at them with my fingers against my lips, trying to figure out how to do this. The only thing that ran through my mind was, “How do I shatter then innocence of twenty-three kids? What do I say?” It may be the worst position I’ve ever been in, especially since no less than half of the kids had fathers in the military.
Their reaction was initial silence followed by dozens of questions I couldn’t answer. When the bell rang, they left for homeroom and I went outside to try to reach my husband on post, wondering if I’d see him again anytime soon or if he’d be yanked up and sent to who knows where before I could talk to him. I couldn’t reach him, so I called my dad and my grandmother. The kids were all outside on cell phones and nobody tried to stop them. They wanted to hear their parents’ voices. Who was going to deny them that?
I stood in the parking lot and waited for a few minutes. I honestly thought Jesus was going to crack the sky that day and take us all home.
I can still see my homeroom students, the junior class. They had gone into my closet (usually a no-no) and pulled out my radio to listen to the news. It seems they knew I wouldn’t mind that day, and I didn’t. We sat in a circle around it and held each other and listened and waited for who knows what. They finally let us into the auditorium to watch the news live, and it wasn’t until that moment that I understood that this was no small plane that had hit the towers. I pictured a Cessna. Oh, that it had been a Cessna. We were in the auditorium when the first tower fell and the principal cut the feed so the kids wouldn’t be able to see anymore.
That day is like a slideshow of images to me. I was in a bubble at the school and had no idea what I would see on the drive across town to go home. Would the world look the same? Or would there be chaos? It looked the same except for the flags… they were everywhere. Everywhere. And it looked the same except for the sky. Our city is home to a military airfield and is on a major air route, so there are planes in the sky and contrails behind them all of the time. That plane-free silence was the strangest sound I’ve ever heard. And that perfectly cloudless sky without a single plane in it… I cannot describe how out of reality it made me feel. I stood in my yard for nearly an hour and just looked up. It was the biggest indicator to me that everything was suddenly wrong.
May we never forget. May we never forget that day and what we felt. May we never forget that nearly everyone acknowledged God that day: some cried out to Him and some shouted angrily at Him, but His existence was not questioned, was it?
May we never forget that this is why our Soldiers, our Airmen, our Marines, and our Sailors sacrifice.
May we never, ever forget.