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 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.