Fourteen years since our world changed forever. How can that be? I am now teaching children who were not born yet on 9-11. Some of them know about it, and some of them don’t. That fact is hard for me to even wrap my head around. How can they NOT know? As a teacher, I tread gingerly over this historical moment every year. How do you explain it without scaring children to death? How do you tell them of the loss of life and destruction in a way that is informative but not overly violent? I am not sure how to do this or if it is even my job to do it…yet, it is an important moment in our history that cries out to be remembered. Have you ever googled “child-friendly 9-11 videos”? Isn’t that an oxymoron? Nothing about September 11th was child friendly. Nothing you can say can be fully grasped by young brains. Yet, each year I try to impart wisdom through tears and a squeaky voice.
It wouldn’t be as difficult if the children didn’t have so many questions. But they do. Hard ones. Ones with no answers. Or ones with answers that are so painful I have to tap dance around them. They do not seem to understand why I cry as I work my way through the explanations. They are quietly compassionate and surprisingly hushed when they have to wait for my voice to return as I speak. They may not understand everything, but they do know that it is important enough to make a teacher cry which is something they have not seen before.
At 8:46 a.m. I struggle to remain silent during the moment of silence. I catch the tears in my throat before they escape into whimpers. My prayers for our country are only in my head, but they shout in there, causing me to peek around to make sure no one else heard them. My students are watching me carefully and I smile to set them at ease as we resume our activities. The moment is over, the lesson taught. I push down the emotion, and go about my day as if my heart is not carrying a ton of bricks.
It is my annual day to grieve and remember. I was at school on this day 14 years ago. An early knock at the classroom door to announce a co-worker’s baby had been born brought wonderful news…new life among us. However, shortly afterwards another knock brought only confusion. A hijacking. Numerous planes. A possible attack on America. The words were choppy in my ears. My brain could not understand. Hijacking? So negotiate…that’s the usual way of things, right? What do you mean flying planes into buildings? There was no frame of reference for the news being whispered in the hallway. Don’t tell the children. Don’t talk about it. It is for the parents to decide what to say and what to show. Just teach. And that we did, all day long. We teachers are good at segmenting our lives and protecting our students even as we wonder where our own children are and if they are safe.
Children were being checked out in droves. With each one leaving we wondered how bad things were becoming. There was a TV on in the library office for teachers to view during our breaks. Someone said a tower fell. I thought they misunderstood…not fell…a tower was crashed into, right? My head was correcting what I thought was a mistake when I watched it fall, over and over on instant replay…the smoke billowing out, the fog of debris, the screams, the ghost-people running and bleeding in the streets. This had to be a horror movie…this couldn’t be real. Then as I stood there with my mouth open, the second tower fell. My stomach knotted up. My eyes filled. I had to walk away. I had to go back and teach.
I remember standing outside the classroom, wiping my tears away, taking a deep breath, and plastering on my “everything-is-fine” mask. My co-teacher looked at me and she could tell I was holding on by a thread. I told her to take a break and I would take the class for a bit. As she left there was fear in her eyes because she knew I wouldn’t ask her to take a break unless it was bad. She was gone a long time. I cannot remember what I taught, but I do remember wanting to withdraw into my home with my own children all safe next to me, but I couldn’t. The day passed in a blur, then slowed to a snail’s pace once I got home for the evening. I could not tear myself away from the coverage… hour after hour of it, which would turn to days and months of watching the story unfold in colorful HD clarity. It was a nightmare.
Today I explained all the things that have changed since 9/11 to my students. I assured them that security has increased and improved since then in airports and all kinds of venues. That communities are better prepared to handle disasters of all kinds now. That first responders are well trained. I completely side stepped an ISIS question, and continued on with my “things are going to be okay” speech. I could see that my words eased their anxiety and their level of fear dropped, even if they rang hollow in my own ears. The truth is the terrorist threat has not dissipated but increased. Our world has become a more dangerous place since that historic horrific day. It is a day of memorial that causes me to reflect.
Amidst the scariness of it all, I find I trust in God more now than ever before. I cling to his goodness and wear it like a cloak draped around my shoulders. I may not be able to tell my enemy from my friend, but I can be assured that he knows and therefore, it is not important for me to. Worry will not add one day to my life, and I refuse to allow fear to steal the days I have been given. I cannot determine when my time will be up, be it a terrorist attack or a car accident or a slow moving disease. Not mine to choose. I can only act on what I know each day and this is what I know:
- I am loved beyond measure.
- My God will never leave me or forsake me.
- I have the capacity to love ALL of those he brings into my life.
- I have to trust him in order to do so.
- I am not God.
- His ways are higher than my ways.
- He does not have to tell me his plans for the world.
- I am called to represent his heart to others.
- I don’t always do so.
- He loves me anyway.
- His heart is breaking for the pain in the world he created.
- He died so it can be healed.
- It is not up to me to fix it.
- It is up to me to love and be loved by him.
- If I can do that the world will be a better more peaceful place.