Sunday, September 11, 2011

My Remembrance of 9/11

On Friday, I had the privilege of substitute teaching at the Mt. Vernon High School. After working with preschoolers all week, I couldn't wait to get in a classroom with older kids. However, I had not considered that the day would have special significance. Since the 10 year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks falls over the weekend, many of the classes were showing a video and discussing this event and what it means.

I only showed the video during the 7th and 8th hour classes and several of the students exclaimed they had already seen it many times over the course of the day. It was a well made video produced either by the school or one of the students. It mixed various 9/11 footage with different students and teachers telling the story of where they were when they heard the news of the planes hitting the towers.

Afterwards, we discussed our memories and the importance of the event. Since the students were between the ages of five and seven when this history was made, they really did not understand the significance of the event at the time. It is just old history to many of them. The best I can compare to is my memory of Ronald Reagan getting shot. I remember it, but it wasn't that big of a deal to me since I was only nine years old. I did not understand the significance. Despite the fact that I was alive when it happened, it is just another part of history to me. However, I was an adult in 2001 and was quickly aware of what was happening as I watched the second plane hit the tower.

In July of 2001 I accepted a job with a private school in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Therefore, my family had only been on the island for a few months when September came around. I was working in my office when my secretary burst in very excited. She did not speak English and I really did not have a grasp on my Spanish yet.  She was jumping up and down yelling, "Pastor, Pastor, Pastor....Ah....plane, plane grande....Nuevo York....plane...BOOM!" She was saying a bunch of other things, but she was very aware of the fact that I was not understanding her. I knew something was wrong, so I followed her to the radio in her office. I knew enough Spanish at that point that I could gather the general idea of what someone was saying. Since the first plane had just hit a few minutes before, the newscasters were talking very quickly and did not really seem to know anything yet.

I caught that a commercial plane had hit the World Trade Center, so I ran home to turn on CNN. At that point, this was just an interesting news story. Planes crash sometimes, but for a commercial jet to hit the World Trade Center was awful. Once I thought I understood what had happened I stood up to go back to work. As I took a step forward to turn off the television, the second plane came onto the screen and crashed into the second tower. I felt my heart sink. As the announcers were still in stunned silence trying to figure out what to say, I realized that this was intentional. I didn't know what that meant, but someone had planned this. The news anchor then started to say the same thing I was thinking. This was a planned catastrophe.

I then started to record 'CNN en Español' for the teachers to watch in the break room so they could know what was going on. I kept watching CNN and saw the live footage of the first tower coming down. I had taken the tape back to the school before the second one came down, but got to see the footage hundreds of times over the next couple of weeks. The rest of the day I spent in my office glued to the Internet news feeds to hear the latest information, but don't really remember the events for the rest of the day.

Not knowing what this meant for the country was the worst part. Would there be more attacks? Once we realized this had been done to us by a foreign enemy I wondered if we may even see enemy soldiers on our soil. How bad is this going to get? I never wanted to be back home in the States as much as I did during this time. If the fight actually makes it to our soil and we are fighting for our lives, I would much rather be in familiar territory than in this new land we were in. Since Puerto Rico is part of the U.S. and we lived within a few miles of a large naval base, there was concern of an attack on the island, especially since it is a strategic defense position for the East Coast. There was no feeling of safety just because we were so far away.

Over the next few weeks we were pulled over several times and had our car searched at various road blocks. The heightened security was very visible. I don't think we would have experienced that in the Midwest. As much as I was mesmerized by knowing and talking about the latest developments, soon the news services were issuing warnings about the possible damage we could be doing to our children by the constant bombardment of fear, death, images of crashing planes, people leaping out of burning buildings and other bad news. I realized I did need to protect my children's' minds, but I probably needed to do the same for mine as well. That constant state of stress is not good for anyone.

As time rolled on, different people began to have different reactions. Some expressed anger, others felt a deep pride, many signed up to fight in the military and a renewed patriot spirit grew strong. Since then, many things have happened and many things have been said. Some good, some bad.

Now, 10 years later, I don't know how to finish this blog. I want to wrap it up with some deep, insightful statement to leave the reader thinking or give a renewed sense of pride, but I have nothing. I wrote this to project my memory of that day and I know it is something I will never forget, but it is something that no one who lived through it will forget, regardless of what personal conclusions they came to over the course of the next 10 years. Some people applaud the president's handling of the situation, while others condemn him. Some people believe we have captured the people responsible, while others believe we have been chasing the wrong people. I have read about hundreds of theories people have for why we were attacked to begin with.

What have I learned? I am left with the impression of the high school English classroom I was teaching on Friday. These teenagers do not have the same level of interest in this anniversary as their parents. Despite the fact that they were alive when this happened, they were so young, it did not leave the impression on them that it left on me, much like my limited recollection of the Reagan shooting. Listening to the generation before me talk about the Kennedy shooting is entirely different than me reading about it in a history book. Listening to war veteran's recall the adventures and horrors of Vietnam or World War II reminds me that real people lived through these things. These are events that actually happened. Families were deeply affected and lives were changed by these events. Whether we are discussing the events of the Revolutionary War, the attack on the World Trade Center or anything history in between, these are not just facts, names and places to learn for school. They are a part of who we are and shape our identity as Americans.

We must never forget.

7 comments:

  1. I do not know if what the leaders decided to do was correct or not or if we got the correct people , but what I do know is that the people making decisions in those days following the attacks made them with the best intentions at heart. They didn't think about what side they were on or who was paying for what all they did was protect us or try to. I am not sure what the reason of the attack was but the affect was an uprising. I am proud to be an American in 2001 and am still today. I know what I was doing 10 years ago as all other adults do. And all my issues in life seemed to fade away and the images on the tv were burned into my mind. I know that I am a better person, mother and wife because I lived through that.

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  2. Sounded pretty insightful to me! I couldn't agree more with that last paragraph.

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  3. Good read Brett. I think because of the immediacy of watching the events of 9/11 unfold before our eyes it made such a lasting impression. It became personalized because of this. We can only hope that something of this magnitude doesn't happen again. But hope is all we can do.

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  4. Pastor Pastor Pastor well written, but I still want a new post for towmmorow this was great!!! Doesn't get you off the hook for the next one!!! LOL

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    1. I wrote this post a year ago for the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Today, it is getting tons of hits. It has been viewed over 300 times today. It didn't get that many hits in all of last year.

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  5. Being single, I never felt more alone than I did on that day. The events of 9/11 had a trickle down affect that changed so many lives and eventually changed my life also. The economy stalled and has never really been the same, though other factors contributed. You would be a good one to have around in time of crisis because it would be like having McGyver with me, or are you too young to remember McGyver? I'm meandering, but bottom line, your acount is well-written.

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    1. I do remember McGuyver. I was in my 20's when that show was on.

      Thank you. It was scary being out of the country and trying to decide if we would be safer there or at home in Illinois.

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