Harry was never punctual, and he wasn’t terribly bright. So I wasn’t surprised to see him saunter into the room an hour after class had started. I handed him the assignment I had explained 45 minutes earlier and he said, “There’s been a terrorist attack on the United States.”
“I doubt that. Sit down and get to work,” I said.
“No, really! Someone flew a plane into the World Trade Center.”
The excuses he had handed me in a mere three weeks of school colored his credibility, but I placated him with this: “I’ll check CNN.com and see what I can find.”
We were a Channel One school, which meant we had a TV in every classroom, but mine was the only TV not hooked up to local or cable TV, so it would have done no good to try that route. I sat at my computer, pulled up CNN.com, and found nothing to corroborate Harry’s story.
While our mainstream culture had been with the Internet for about seven years at that point, I don’t think we quite knew how to utilize it in a most efficient manner. Think if Twitter or Facebook existed ten years ago today–I would have known before Harry got to class what happened. But at 8:20 Mountain Daylight Time, no one had yet updated cnn.com to reflect what had happened two hours earlier. Our administrators hadn’t sent an email to let us know.
The bell rang about 10 minutes later, and as it was a block day for odd-numbered classes, the next 90 minutes were mine for planning and grading. I left my room to talk to a counselor about a student, and thought it was odd that I could hear so many televisions being watched in classrooms near me.
“Easy day,” I thought to myself as I walked downstairs.
When I arrived in the counseling offices, I was greeted by a dozen backs, necks of students and staff craning to see the television in the corner opposite the door. It was after 9 AM in Utah at that time–over two hours since the first plane hit–and I was seeing it all for the first time.
Harry was right.
I ran upstairs to my classroom to call three people: my sister in D.C., my parents, and my good friend whose husband was active duty Air Force in Omaha.
The rest of the day is a blur. Students wanted to talk about it; I wanted to keep things as normal as possible. I settled on a happy medium: they could ask questions or share concerns for 10 minutes, and then we would move on.
My 7th hour Journalism class had a visitor: a reporter from the Salt Lake Tribune doing a story on teens’ immediate reactions to the attacks. My students shared some profound concerns. Were relatives in the military safe? Would Congress reinstitute the draft? Did we even know who to go to war against? And one girl said, “I heard they are closing the mall. I go shopping when I’m upset. What will I do instead?”
That dumb reporter, out of everything my kids talked about, wrote in her story that students were concerned about the local malls being open. She made them seem shallow. I was livid.
That, as you know, was ten years ago today.
I still feel guilt. Guilt that I didn’t believe Harry. Guilt that four days later I survived a car accident that should have killed me, knowing how many people were killed in those attacks. Guilt that I sometimes complain about things I don’t have instead of being so, so grateful for the only thing that should ever matter: life.
And that’s what I (and we all) can do to best honor the memories of those who died that day, and those who continue to die as a result of that day–we can live. We can try new and hard things like running a 5K or getting more education. We can spend time with our families on holidays and on ordinary days. We can seek spiritual enlightenment for strength, in whatever form we currently choose.
We can live.