Sunday, September 11, 2011

Memories of Sept. 11, 2011

I've seen a lot of blog posts about different people's memories of Sept. 11th.  I wasn't sure if I wanted to write down what I remember from that day, at a risk of being repetitive.  But then I realized, everyone's experiences are unique to them and I thought every single one I've read, I've read until the end.

So this is mine.

By 2001, in Sept., I'd begun my 11th year of teaching.  I was at the same school I'm at now, but at the time, we still had our middle school kids in the building.  Our grades ranged from 1st-8th grade. This would be the last year we'd have these kids.  They were opening a middle school to house them and our structure would change to a Kindergarten through 5th grade as it is today.

Since my schedule is basically non-stop, I started teaching around 8:00 and didn't stop til around 11:00.  I'd seen a 6th grade kid in the hallway on my way back from the bathroom and he stopped me and said, "A plane hit the towers."
I said, "What towers, John?"
He answered me, "The twin towers," and then walked on down the hall.  I had no idea was he was talking about. All I could think about was a small plane had run into one of them by mistake.  I thought it was interesting that none of the teachers had mentioned it to me, but as I think back on it, they were younger grade teachers and maybe didn't want to upset the kids by talking about it, or maybe they didn't know either.  I had a TV in my room, but it wasn't hooked up to cable or anything, so it wouldn't have done me any good to turn it on.

So when it was time for me to go eat lunch, I walked into the teacher workroom and sat down to eat my lunch.  When I asked, "So what's going on with that plane hitting the twin towers?"
One of the 6th grade teachers looked at me with her eyes wide,She said, "They're gone."
"What's gone?" I asked, because I didn't get what she was telling me at all.
"They're gone.  The twin towers fell. It's all just rubble!" Her eyes were watering by now, which scared me.  But I still wasn't processing what she was saying.
I said, "I thought a small plane hit one of them."
She said, "No, they were jets, full of people and they flew straight into them and now both of them have fallen.  We've been watching it on TV and it's just been awful."
I was in shock, of course, like everybody else.  My memories are blank after that initial conversation. Here I was, sitting here attempting to figure out her words and then I had about 15 minutes before I had to go back and face kids and finish teaching.  I remember not being able to fathom anything that she was saying.  I couldn't imagine what any of it looked like.  None of it still made sense to me.  I don't remember anything else about that day until I got into the car.  My oldest daughter was in 2nd grade and with me at school.  When she got into the car and I turned on the radio, all I could hear was Tom Brokaw's voice recapping what was going on.
The gravity of the days events hit me hard in the car.  This is bad.  This is really bad.
My daughter asked me, "Mama, why is there no music on the radio?"
I told her, "Some really bad stuff happened today and they're talking about it."
She proceeded to ask me what happened and I tried to explain it the best I could. So all the way home, we heard a recap of what had happened and then I found out about the details and all the planes that had gone down.
When we'd gotten my youngest and got home, I turned on the TV immediately to watch the news.  When I saw the footage of the plane going into the building, shock just blew through me.
When they showed the towers falling, I couldn't believe it. Once I'd seen it, I still didn't really believe it.
When the local news came on, they told every one all the malls were closing early as a safety precaution and for everyone to stay in their homes.  Public events were cancelled.  I wondered if we would go to school the next day.  At that moment, I thought it might be a good idea to keep every body home and allow us all to have a day of mourning and try to get all this processed in our brains.
School went on the next day anyway and all of us, of course were still in shock.  But we did our jobs the best we knew how and tried to help the older kids process all they had seen.
Fast Forward to Sept. 9, 2011
On Friday, on our school wide announcements, they showed a 9/11 tribute, which showed the footage of the plane crashing into the towers.
Right after that, we got two classes of 1st graders that hadn't had time to really process what they'd seen.  I didn't see it, so I don't know what they actually saw, so when they came in talking about it, me and my partner teacher thought it was a good idea to allow them to ask questions.
One of the little girls was starting to get upset and started to cry. I'd seen a special on the 9/11 memorial in New York and told my partner to Google it.  I said, "We need a happy ending here."
So we looked at a video of what the memorial looked like and I also told them about things I'd seen in the special and the details about it. Just seeing those gigantic waterfalls brought a sense of peace to the kids and awe.  They were impressed by how big they were and how pretty they were. That memorial did exactly what it was meant to do. Bring a sense of calm and peace to a horrible situation.  Even in a portable classroom a 1,000 miles away.
I was glad I'd seen the program, because it helped them have a resolution to what they'd seen.  I'm sure if the 1st grade teachers had known that was going to be on the announcements, they would've turned the TV's off.  But it is history, as violent as it is and as ugly as it is.
It happened to us and I pray for all the people we lost.  I'm also grateful to all the people that worked on all the memorials at WTC, the Pentagon and in Penn. I think those memorials will finally bring some peace and closure to the people that lost loved ones that horrible day, just like it did for my first graders.
I've added on my bucket list to visit each of these memorial sites, because even though I didn't lose anyone close to me that day, I feel like we were all changed by it.  I feel like I need to go there and pay my respects at some point.  The people that died deserve at least that from me.

Seeing the footage after so many years, you'd think it would be something that wouldn't bother you anymore because we've seen it so many times. But it still does.
 The good news is the World Trade Center memorial is beautiful and it will be there for all of us from now on.  And that makes feel better.


  1. Wow. Thank you so much for sharing your memories, Suzanne. My son(he was only four and a half at the time) had snuck out from his room where he was supposed to be napping into the living room where the burning towers were on display on TV. I was putting laundry away somewhere across the house and heard him crying. Even tho he was too little to understand what happened, he knew it was bad. I held him and watched in stunned disbelief as the horror unfolded. I will never forget that day. God bless the families who have to celebrate this anniversary each year with grief in their hearts. This was a tragic and beautiful post.

  2. Thank you for this, Suzanne. I'm so glad you decided to write down your memories and share them. Very heartfelt and touching.

  3. That was beautifully expressed. The horrors of that day were so hard to believe. I found out at recess and we watched footage in the staff room. Some kids were heading home at lunch, and I taught grade 8 at the time, so I discussed it with them before they could bring back stories and upset people at lunch break. We talked about how important it was not to discuss it around the little ones too. Such a heart breaking day. I'm glad you thought of using the memorial site to help the little guys through it - we all need some hope and some peace and calm to get use through.