Thoughts on 9/11

The Covington News - - Opinion -

This could be one of those gen­er­a­tional things per­haps, but I think it’s more in the way of a uni­ver­sal mat­ter of com­pas­sion, aware­ness and plain shock that tran­scends any era.

It’s a sim­ple ques­tion re­ally, but riv­et­ing in its di­rect­ness — do you re­mem­ber where you were when you heard about the 9/ 11 at­tacks?

Sept. 11, 2001 — a day con­tain­ing events so unimag­in­able, they still defy com­pre­hen­sion.

I was teach­ing sixth grade at Cony­ers Mid­dle School that morn­ing; the first block of classes had just be­gun. As first pe­riod was my plan­ning time, I was en route to the cafe­te­ria for some much- needed cof­fee.

A class­room door burst open, and a mid­dle- aged, fe­male math teacher emerged and slumped up against the hall­way wall, sob­bing. I went over to see if I could help, but she looked up, wide- eyed, ex­claim­ing, “ Haven’t you heard? We’ve been at­tacked! It’s on CNN.”

Es­chew­ing cof­fee, I hus­tled back to my class­room and turned on the news. An hour later, when my first class ar­rived, I was still glued there, un­able to break away from the un­be­liev­able events. I kept ref­er­enc­ing my life ex­pe­ri­ence as I tried to com­pre­hend the TV pic­tures, weigh­ing com­mon sense against the some­times ig­no­rant com­ments made by re­porters who had no work­ing knowl­edge of air­line pro­ce­dures and con­trolled air space. Air­lin­ers just don’t fly into sky­scrapers.

One of the Twin Tow­ers col­lapsed, fol­lowed by the other. There were pic­tures of the Pen­tagon, and news that a 757 had crashed into it. A plane was miss­ing over Penn­syl­va­nia, and the FAA grounded all non- mil­i­tary flights in Amer­i­can airspace.

The prin­ci­pal came on over the loud­speaker sys­tem, telling teach­ers to turn off their tele­vi­sions. What? Are you kid­ding me? Not to­day, big boy. My kids were riv­eted, be­hav­ing bet­ter than they nor­mally did. On that ter­ri­ble day, the so­cial stud­ies com­mu­nion in the class­room was a spe­cial thing, as we were all learn­ing it and liv­ing it to­gether.

Nor­mally in a mid­dle school so­cial stud­ies class­room, the kids don’t want the teacher to even re­motely think they care about what the adult has to say.

But on that day, the kids knew I knew more about what was go­ing on than they did, and they wanted to know what I knew. So we shared some of those mag­i­cal times teach­ers live for, when kids want to dis­cuss real life and stuff that re­ally mat­ters.

About lunch time, the air­line called and told me not to re­port to work for the night shift. They were park­ing planes ev­ery­where a spot was avail­able at Harts­field In­ter­na­tional, as all flights were grounded, and were lim­it­ing ac­cess to the world’s busiest com­mer­cial air­port. Just call in to­mor­row, they said, and we’ll play this thing out one day at a time.

Dur­ing the day, I told my classes of grow­ing up and hear­ing my par­ents talk of where they were one Sun­day af­ter­noon, Dec. 7, 1941, when they re­ceived news that a place many had never heard of had been at­tacked by the Ja­panese. It was about 1 p. m. on the east coast of Amer­ica when that at­tack occurred; both of my par­ents’ fam­i­lies were gath­ered around their fam­ily ra­dios lis­ten­ing to a va­ri­ety show when they heard about Pearl Har­bor.

As a kid, I didn’t quite grasp why my par­ents made such a big deal about where they were when they heard the news. When I was 12, though, it was brought home to me as I sat in a so­cial stud­ies class on Nov. 22, 1963. Our prin­ci­pal an­nounced that Pres­i­dent John Fitzger­ald Kennedy had been shot in Dal­las, and asked us all to say a si­lent prayer for him.

My teacher, Mrs. Tay­lor, put her head down on her desk and started softly cry­ing. It was, and re­mains, a sur­real mo­ment in time for me. A lit­tle while later the prin­ci­pal told us that our pres­i­dent — the young guy who played touch foot­ball on the White House lawn with his fam­ily — was dead. And the whole world just sort of turned up­side down.

Later that evening, I talked to my par­ents and told them that I re­al­ized now what the big deal was about know­ing where they were when they heard about the Pearl Har­bor at­tack. I didn’t think I’d ever for­get be­ing a sev­enth grader in Mrs. Tay­lor’s class­room the day JFK was as­sas­si­nated, much less that 38 years later I’d be teach­ing sixth graders in Cony­ers on a day when air­lin­ers flew into sky­scrapers.

It’s pe­cu­liar the way catas­tro­phe changes the way you think, isn’t it? Over the in­ter­ven­ing years I’ve grown im­pa­tient with peo­ple and things which exhibit a lack of re­spect for life, hav­ing learned again on 9/ 11 just how capri­cious this life of ours is. I think, still, on the in­no­cent folks who went to work early that Septem­ber morn to beat rush hour, or maybe just to en­joy a cup of cof­fee atop the World Trade Cen­ter as they watched the sun rise over the Hud­son.

Mostly, though, as a way to honor the mem­ory of that day, I’ve be­come fo­cused on the last verse of our Na­tional An­them. We sing the first verse, but more and more I’m think­ing we need to sing the last one, for it an­swers the ques­tion put forth by Fran­cis Scott Key in the first: “ Oh, thus be it ever when

free men shall stand Be­tween their loved homes and the war’s deso­la­tion! Blest with vict’ry and

peace, May the heav’n res­cued

land Praise the Pow’r that hath

made And pre­served us a na­tion! Then con­quer we must, When our cause it is just, And this be our motto: ‘ In God is our trust!’ And the Star-Span­gled Ban­ner

In tri­umph shall wave O’er the land of the free And the home of the

brave!”

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