Monday, September 12, 2011

Never Forget

I remember as a kid my mom telling me she knew exactly where she was and what she was doing the moment she found out JFK had been assassinated. I always thought that was a bit strange...until one very somber day 10 years ago. Now, I can visualize exactly where I was and what I was doing that Tuesday in September when the world forever changed.
On 9-11-01 I had recently (5 days earlier) celebrated my 24th birthday and was in my 3rd year of teaching elementary school. It was my 2nd year as a 1st grade teacher at Spring Garden Elementary, and as I drove to work that morning (speeding I'm sure as I was probably running late as usual) I had the radio on. The DJ said there had been a plane hit the World Trade Center in NYC and he actually kind of laughed about it. At the time, they thought it was a small Cessna type plane and the thought was, "Dude, how do you not see that gigantic building in front of you?" I thought, "man that really sucks" but didn't think more about it (although I do remember the exact spot on Cheek-Sparger Drive where I was when I heard it).
I made it to work, went into my classroom and started my day. That morning the kids had an assembly to attend in the cafeteria. It was unusual to have one first thing in the morning, but seeing as how plays and theater productions basically gave us teachers an hour or so of "free time", none of us complained! As we sat there watching the play with our kids, the principal of the school called the leader teacher of our team over to talk to him quietly. I happened to glance at her face, and she had a very somber look. I knew something was wrong, but had no earthly idea what (or the depth of it) at the time.
Once the play was over and we walked our kids back to our classrooms, she called the 4 of us out in the hall. As the 5 of us stood there, she told us that America was under attack, and so far 2 planes had hit the trade center, and they thought more was going to happen but weren't sure what/when/where. It was a very surreal and scary feeling. She also told us we were not to turn on tvs or radios because we didn't want to scare the kids, but that if parents came to pick their children up, there were allowed to go with no questions asked.
As the day went on, more and more parents started to trickle in and pick up their children. At the time I remember thinking 2 things - 1. Why are they picking their kids up? It isn't like Spring Garden Elementary is a big terrorist target. (As a mommy now, I get it. They weren't afraid of something happening at SGE, but just wanted to feel safe, be with their loved ones, and protect their children in any way they could. I get it now, and would go to the ends of the Earth to protect my child if something threatened to hurt her.) 2. Is this lesson I'm teaching on the sounds the letter C makes really all that important right now, especially if this is it and the end is near?
The first few kids to leave didn't get to me too much, but by that afternoon, over half my class was gone. My room mom, who I was also good friends with, came in and had tears in her eyes. I went outside in the hall with her and begged her to tell me what was going on (we still hadn't had any more info than knowing 2 planes had hit the towers). She hugged me, looked me in the eyes and said, "It's bad Kim. It's so bad. 2 planes hit the towers and they have both collapsed, 1 hit the Pentagon and 1 has crashed in a field. Thousands are feared dead. They don't know if there are more or if other things will be hit or where. I'm scared and it's bad." Well, let's just say my tears started flowing too and I had to get myself back together quick before I walked back in that classroom.
For the last 2 hours of the school day I pretty much just let the kids play puzzles and games. I wasn't in the mindset to teach (and there were only about 7 kids left anyway). Finally, the bell rang and I immediately dismissed the kids and turned on the tv. That's when I saw the pictures. That's when it sank it. That's when I finally cried.
After work that day, I went home and watched the news non-stop for hours (like the rest of America did I'm sure). I talked to friends and made sure they were ok (I didn't personally know anyone in the hit areas, but it was more of an 'are you emotionally ok' thing). I talked to my ex-boyfriend. We'd ended things a few weeks before and hadn't really spoken, but suddenly we both just needed to hear a voice we cared about. (No, we didn't get back together or anything, but we did become friends again). A fellow co-worker offered to let me stay with her if I was afraid to stay alone, since my family lived in Houston and I was living in DFW at the time. (I didn't but thought that was an awfully sweet gesture of her).
I also talked to my mom. I didn't realize it at the time, but my dad (a commercial airline pilot) was scheduled to fly out of NYC that morning. She was worried b/c she hadn't heard from him. Finally she did and it turns out that he did indeed fly that day, but thankfully his flight had taken off before the first plane hit. He was flying to Jamaica and by the time the FAA called to land all planes, they were already out of the country. He did get stuck in Jamaica for a week (boo hoo, right?!?) but he was safe and that was what mattered.
It was a surreal day and the next few weeks felt that way too. It seemed like time sort of stood still for a bit. It was difficult to discuss it with 1st graders in class as they knew what had happened but had a 6 year old's perspective on it all. They asked things like, "why does it keep happening? (They replayed the images of the planes crashing so often kids thought it was more and more planes and didn't realize it was a repeat). Why would someone hate someone else that much? Why did God make someone so evil like the people who did that? Why would someone want to fly a plane into a building and kill themselves too? (You know...I still don't really know how to answer any those why's..)
Time has a way of moving on and life changes, the world still turns, birthdays come and go, bad things still happen, but good things do too. Since 2001, I've bought and sold a house; taught school for 6 more years; started a small embroidery company all my own; been married, divorced and married again; had a baby; moved around the world...the list goes on...
My heart swells with pride at how our country stood united in those dark days after 9-11. My heart aches for those who lost so much that day. I am proud of the men and women who gave their lives to help. I'm proud of those who have fought for freedom since then, including my own Air Force husband.
Time can lessen the despair, the hurt and anguish of that day. Time can also make us forget the pride we all had for our nation we had that day, and that's just something we can never do. One day I'll explain it to my own daughter. Teach her that time marches on, but memories are worth holding on to. May I have the ability to raise her to be the type that steps up to help others in need, and may God Bless America, now and always.