Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Where Were You? What Do You Remember?
Are you flying your flag today?
There are days that we remember because of the impact they have on our individual lives. There are days and times that we remember because of the impact they have on our own lives, our communities, our country, and the world. If you were alive on December 7, 1941; November 22, 1963; January 28, 1986; and other historical days you probably remember exactly where you were and what you were doing. I wasn't here for 1941 when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, but I have heard stories my whole life about that day that lives "in infamy." I remember 1963 when John F. Kennedy was shot down in Dallas, and 1986 when the Challenger Shuttle exploded on liftoff over Florida. The images of those, and other life altering days are etched on my mind forever.
I was in a small workroom just off the main office. A teacher and I were working on some project involving making copies. We were discussing just how to get the images to copy on the paper exactly the way it needed to be. Real important stuff in an elementary school.
Suddenly, one of the secretaries called for me to. "COME HERE DR. S. YOU NEED TO SEE THIS!" The sound in her voice was similar to what I would hear if there was blood, dangling skin, broken limbs, throw-up, or some other child-centered catastrophe involved--and the office staff didn't call for me unless there were LOTS of the aforementioned body parts, pieces, and fluids involved. I heeded the urgency in her voice and went immediately around the corner to the front office.
My secretary's friend had called her and told her to turn on a TV. We had a small TV attached to the wall in the front office. It was there for weather alerts or other emergencies. This certainly qualified as an emergency. I stood there in amazement as we heard the story of the first hit on the World Trade Towers in New York City. Then we watched in utter horror as the second plane hit! We knew then that this was a catastrophe unlike any we had ever witnessed. However, I don't think any of us huddled in that school office had any inkling of the enormity of how lives, ours and certainly others, were forever changed in those minutes.
At the moment we saw the images of the second hit a teacher standing in the office fell to the floor, sobbing in absolute and utter agony. As we began to attend to her, we realized her reaction was because of her daughter. Her sweet young, college student daughter was in her first semester of college in New York City. Her dorm was about a quarter of a mile from the Trade Center. Her college classes were held in one of the Twin Towers. Imagine a mother's agony seeing those images and not knowing if her daughter was in class or still at home preparing to go to school!
Of course, we immediately changed schedules to take care of her students. Then we found a family member to come get her--we knew she didn't need to drive. Later I sat with that teacher outside while she waited for her other daughter to come get her. What do you say to someone in that situation? You put your arms around them. You pray with them. You tell them you love them. You silently thank God your own children are not in New York City!
The whole time we were making arrangements for the teacher, she was frantically trying to locate her daughter and confirm her safety. It was hours before she knew her daughter had been standing at her apartment window looking at the towers when the second plane hit. She and her friends walked for hours through New York, some still in their pajamas, to the home of a fellow student. From there they were cared for by parents of friends until they could arrange to come home. She later returned to school in New York.
After the initial arrangements were started with that teacher, while she and the office staff were busy taking care of her arrangements, I had to consider the rest of the people in the building. Because of the age of the students I did not want TVs in classrooms turned on--certainly not until we knew more about what was happening and were ready to monitor what was seen and how to answer questions. Of course, by the next school day most of the children had seen everything. But at that moment, I felt we needed to exercise some discretion if possible. I didn't want to make an announcement over the PA system. It just seemed to me that I needed to speak to each adult in person.
I went to every teacher and employee in that building and told them personally what was happening. The classrooms in our building were situated so that, in some areas, four doors opened near each other. In each of those areas I called all four teachers to their doors and explained what we were seeing on TV. Other places in the building I talked to one or two teachers at a time. I made sure that every adult in the building knew what I knew. It was one of the hardest things I had ever had to do.
I remember seeing stunned looks of incomprehension, and complete dismay. I heard teachers, normally strong and in control, cry in anguish before pulling themselves together and returning to classrooms to take care of children. I heard people express concern about family and friends in New York. One young teacher's brother and mother were scheduled to be in business meetings in the Towers that day. She found out, that because of last minute schedule changes, they were safe.. Others were able to quickly locate their loved ones.
At the end of the day we went home. I don't believe I had ever been as weary at the end of a school day as I was when that one was over. It had taken a huge physical, mental, and emotional toll on all of us. I remember standing in the shower that evening, sobbing. I was finally able to let it out. All day I had tried to be strong, in charge, consoling, comforting, encouraging, and reassuring. At the end of the day I was just tired. Exhausted.
As that day, and the ones that came after progressed, schools were given instructions from Central Office. Security issues were discussed. Safety and security plans were made--and changed. Life went on. It was greatly changed, forever altered, we did not feel as safe as we had before; but life went on.
The images and memories of that day will stay with us forever. Hopefully, in the aftermath and the days since then we have learned from the experience. Hopefully, we treasure life even more now than we did before.
Where were you on September 11, 2001?
What do you remember?
What do you remember?