Thursday, September 11, 2008

Lest We Forget

This pretty much says it all for me. I was teaching school that day. I didn't have a homeroom and for some reason, I didn't feel compelled to turn on the morning announcements and then the Today Show, as was my custom. Prep was in 4th grade and BrownBear had just started kindergarten. (She was still dew-eyed and almost chubby cheeked; the very essence of angelic.) I went about my morning routine, taught my first class and had started second period when the principal came over the intercom and said, "Teachers, what has occurred this morning has been a terrible national tragedy. However, it is in the best interests of our students for us to turn off the TVs in the building and continue on with our regular day." My students and I looked at each other and went "national emergency?" They begged me to turn on the TV and the goody two shoes that I am, I wouldn't do it. I had just been told by the guy in charge to turn it off; I bloody well wasn't going to ignore his request in front of a room full of 7th graders.
As soon as the bell rang and I got rid of those students, I turned on my TV. The Art teacher, the Speech teacher and a few others ran into my room and we watched what had already unfolded. The towers were down, the Pentagon was in flames and a plane was down in the Pennsylvania countryside.
Tom Brokaw said that Foggy Bottom was on fire and that the White House and Capitol were under alert.
I will never forget that.
I had ridden the Metro past Foggy Bottom (the State Department stop) all during my college internship.
But the real kick in the stomach was the fact that my only brother-in-law worked for Merrill Lynch in the World Trade Center. The one that was already gone.
Cellphone service was gone and there was a line for the only working phone on my hall: the band teacher had cancelled after school practice and every kid in the band was calling his parents. Believe me - I pulled rank and cut. I couldn't get LawyerBoy, I couldn't get my sister (who later told me that she could see the Pentagon burning from her school, I couldn't get my parents, I couldn't get my brother (who was working somewhere near Dick Cheney's hideout in Pennsylvania) and finally, finally, I got my in laws, who calmly informed me that the ShoeKing, who wasn't the ShoeKing at the time, hadn't gone to work that day at all.
And that's when I lost my crap. I could hardly form words but I made them promise to go find out how Prep and BrownBear were. And then I pulled it back together, because I had a room full of 8th graders, dwindling by the minute, who were waiting for me to come be teachergirl.
I don't know what I did that day, but I sure would like to see a repeat of what passed for a lesson.
BrownBear and Prep had a million questions that night and I'm not sure how I answered them. I remember that Prep had been trying to imitate George Bush all summer and that night she finally nailed it and I had to tell her to can it because it wasn't the right night to pull out her comedy routine.
I remember that I drank about a million Cosmopolitans that week - a good, strong Cosmo reminds me of that week, even today. I remember how empty the freeway was that afternoon going home. I remember how crowded the Red Cross was that afternoon - the line was so long that they said to come back another day to give blood. I remember how odd it was to not have any commercial airplanes flying but how comforting it was to hear the fighter planes circling the perimeter. I remember going to the local firestation with Prep and BrownBear and signing the big banner we sent to New York.
I remember all of this, because today, as I talked to my fifth graders, I realized that they don't really have their own conscious memories of this day. What they "remember" is a lot like the Kennedy assassination to them. It is what they have seen on the History Channel. It isn't raw and painful to them. It isn't being unable to find a loved one, only to realize he was at home the whole time. It isn't outrage over being attacked on your country's own soil and having to watch helplessly as your own friends and neighbors leap to their deaths or watch firefighters take the remains of their own out of the rubble. It isn't the sorrow of watching a mother tell the Pope that her son was murdered that day and there wasn't anything left of him to bury. It isn't the courage of those workers who labored day after day, scouring the debris of those towers, hoping to find remains for parents and husbands and wives and children to bury. It isn't the fortitude of those left behind to re-open places like Cantor Fitzgerald and those other companies decimated that day. Our students don't have those memories - they only have us. And like so many other things we have to provide our students with, we have to provide them with our memories of this day, so that they won't forget it.

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Blogger cupcake said...

Great post, teach.

I have a 17-year-old student ask me what was so special about September 11. Even after I explained it, he said he still didn't get it.

Maybe if I had followed your lead and told him stories about what I remembered from that day - maybe that would have made a difference.

9/12/2008 6:24 AM  
Blogger Midwest Teacher said...

After trying to deal with students who find humor in 9/11 last year, I didn't bother to do anything this year. And I teach high schoolers. Even they, as 5th and 6th graders at the time, don't really grasp it. Particularly since we're in the Midwest and to them, we weren't directly affected. But I remember that day VERY clearly. Your post made me cry...btw.

9/12/2008 4:21 PM  
Blogger John Deere Mom said...

Great post...I had goosebumps reading the last paragraph. It's such a surreal day to think back upon. I was teaching second or third year. I didn't quite understand the severity of it until I got him and sat GLUED to CNN (this was pre-kids for me.) I finally had to make a conscious decision to quit watching the news. It is so strange to teach 9 and 10 year olds today and realize they have no real memory of that day...we should all be so lucky to get those images out of our heads.

9/12/2008 7:54 PM  
Blogger Sally said...

I remember that day as well. I remember the didn't seem real. I too, talked to a group of kids who knew what had happened but had no memories of it of their own, they were 2!

I still remember where I was when Reagan was shot too. I can picture the room, the chair, the surroundings. I was in sixth grade. It has never left me and I am a great many years removed from sixth grade.

Great post.

9/13/2008 3:16 AM  

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