Fourteen years later, the sky is the same brilliant blue though the air isn’t crisp like it was that day, and the light isn’t quite as brilliant. Not because it can’t be, just because it isn’t one of those breathtakingly beautiful September days like it was on 9/11.
Today I’m in my classroom, teaching reading to groups of young children who were born years after that horrific day. I say nothing, but I wonder what they know-if they know. What their parents say or do to mark the day. Between classes, my mind wanders back to that morning.
That day I was teaching preschool. It was the very first day, and three-year-olds dressed in their first day of school best walked slowly into the gravel filled yard in front of the barn where the two classrooms were, most holding firmly to a parent’s hand. The children were wide-eyed and mostly cautious, taking in their first moments of school ever. I crouched down, greeting each of them at their level and reaching up to shake hands with their parents. There we were on a perfect day, in a bucolic setting- mingling under the shade of an old oak tree, the preschool in a barn just behind us.
The two rooms inside were filled with recently washed wooden toys and blocks, crayons, fat pencils, a loom, xylophones and baby dolls and tiny china tea sets arranged just so at tables that were toddler size. I was imagining a joyful morning with time in the sandbox, a story or two, playdoh and a walk through the fields to look for butterflies, fairies and fallen leaves.
And then a mother rushed into the yard, looking pale and rattled, and whispered to me, “Something’s happened. A plane crashed into the World Trade Center.” I remember thinking “How awful,” making sure that my face betrayed no sign of upset. I remember quickly returning to the business of greeting and settling small children. The news was horrible. But it was far away.
And then another mother arrived, visibly upset, and I watched a small group of parents gather at the edge of the play yard, near the split rail fence. Their faces were somber, their voices low and their conversation was fast-paced. It seemed so out of place with the tranquil setting. When I had a chance, I walked over to them and was told that a second plane had hit the other tower. That is when my stomach knotted. Parents were visibly stressed. Some had spouses there in the financial district at that very moment. Others had friends whose offices were in the World Trade Center. What had seemed so far away just a few minutes before, now seemed terribly close.
There was no t.v. or radio, at the preschool. Not that we would have turned it on. And the first day of school was underway. So I walked away from the parents, forcing myself to focus on the children. Parents lingered, unsure whether to leave their children. More parents arrived, with updates. The news got worse. My own children (ages 3 and 5) were there, playing on the swings, hugging friends, picking buttercups. I was grateful that I knew exactly where they were and that they were with me. I looked up at the sky and saw the deep blue. And then I noticed the quiet. There were no planes in the air above us. None.
I looked at my watch, grateful that this first morning was a short one- that within a couple of hours I would be able to call my mom in Connecticut and my cousin in the city and make sure they were okay. The distraction of blessedly oblivious youngsters helped. I stayed busy reading stories, holding hands, wiping noses and pushing swings, all the while wondering how on earth such horror could be unfolding beyond the open fields and rolling hills that surrounded me that morning. Life in my little bubble went on that morning.
But as I drove home, listening to grave reports on the car radio, I began to understand that nothing would ever be the same again. That this kind of terror, on our soil, would change everything. That even living in the country as I did, that feeling of security would change. And change it did. Those first few hours, then days, then months, then years- there was so much sadness, so much loss and fear. Gaping holes, not just in the ground but in many hearts.
Late last night I saw these amazing photos taken by a man named Ben Sturner who was clearly in the right place at the right time.
I can’t stop thinking about them. For me, they say it all. Rain and sunshine. Where we were and where we are. How we remember and honor but also how we carry on and rebuild. Our resilience makes me proud.
Today our story is much on my mind. I am proud to be an American teaching a new generation who someday, when they are old enough to understand, will learn about today.