For me, September 11, 2001, is simply unforgettable.
*Note: Times are all on Central time, since it follows my personal timeline.
7:46 AM Flight 11 hit the first tower.
It was a beautiful Tennessee morning, and time passed without incident. We were about five weeks into the new school year, and I was in the middle of a low key literature lesson in first period. My students and I had finally settled into a routine My biggest problem that morning was the drained feeling I had as a result of my new pregnancy.
“I could see the big airplane coming straight toward us.” ~Connie Labetti, AON, South Tower, 99th Floor
“Hi Jules, it’s Brian. Listen, I’m on an airplane that’s been hijacked.” ~Brian Sweeney, passenger on Flight 175.
At 8:59 am, Flight 175 passenger Brian Sweeney, 29, leaves a message for his wife Julie. He then calls his mother, Louise, to report the hijacking, telling her that the passengers are considering storming the cockpit to wrest control from the hijackers.
8:03 AM Flight 175 hit the South Tower
I hear a knock on my portable door around 9:00. As I open the door, I’m told to lock up. He doesn’t tell me why, but it’s safe to assume that somebody must have robbed a gas station, and is still at large. Slightly irritated at the inconvenience; nonetheless, I do as I am told.
Within minutes of Flight 11’s crash, the FDNY raises its mobilization to the highest level. Many firefighters are already responding to the World Trade Center when hijacked Flight 175 hits the South Tower.
8:37 AM Flight 77 hit the Pentagon
I’m still completely oblivious as second period begins. I’m making sure Sam is on the right page in his novel, and Loren says she needs a pencil.
The Pentagon's on-site firehouse responds immediately to the crash of Flight 77. Firefighters from nearby National Airport (with a foam truck designed to fight jet fuel fires) and Virginia's Arlington County Fire Department arrive within minutes.
Many civilian employees and military personnel evacuate the building shortly after the impact, while others felt compelled to rush into the burning building to rescue trapped and injured colleagues.
It’s another hour before I’m aware my country is under attack. The shock and disbelief only proliferate as the teachers gather to eat lunch and watch the news coverage. We are asked not to discuss anything with the students. That is easy. What do I say to my students anyway? New York is a long way from Tennessee. It might as well be on Mars. Can this generation actually grasp the seriousness of terrorist assaults? As of THIS moment, our lives are forever changed.
Mark Bingham is one the thirteen Flight 93 passengers who succeed in placing a phone call to authorities or loved ones on the ground.
Mark calls his mother, Alice Hoagland, a former flight attendant, via GTE Airphone, and alerts her to the hijacking. Hoagland immediately turns on the television and learns of the recent attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Realizing that Mark’s plane is part of the suicide hijacking mission, she calls him back on his cell phone and leaves two messages, informing him of the other attacks and counseling him to do whatever he can to stop the hijackers.
[Mark never receives the messages. His flight crashes in Somerset, Pennsylvania.]
10 Years Later: September 11, 2011
Ten years later, my daughter, who was born in February of 2002, is nine years old. She and I were in Wal-Mart a few days ago when the latest version of People Magazine caught my eye. The title read, “The Children of 9/11: Their fathers died on that terrible day, before they were born.” The article features the personal account of each of the ten children and how their lives have been affected by the 9/11 tragedy. That’s when it hit me.
Those children are her age. <Gulp> What if SHE never knew her daddy? He’s such a huge force in her life. What if SHE never had a picture made with him holding her? She would have never truly seen how much he loves her. What if he was absent for that “first day of school” picture? There are too many questions with no conceivable answers.
I want to explain. I want to tell her that I lied about the “monsters” not being real. They DO exist...just LOOK! But...not today. One day.
I want her to be exposed to the stories these children tell in the article. She must not ever take her family and friends for granted. But...I choose to protect her innocence for as long as I can. She’ll learn about the monsters soon enough.
There are moments when my personal and professional lives truly collide. A lot of things happened that fateful day in September. Daddies died. Mommies died. Sisters and brothers died. Wars started. Gas prices became preposterous. Airports security became ludicrous. Ultimately, my daughter and these 9/11 kids started their lives under the observance of the National Homeland Security Advisory System.
Now fourth graders, Liz and the 9/11 children will be in middle school in two short years. Middle school is a fragile time of development. After teaching 11 year olds for 17 years, I am anticipating the pain that will inevitably surround them as pre-adolescence dances into their lives.
I’m not sure parents realize how much their adolescents need them, because their children seem to be pushing them away. However, the “push” is like a game of hide and go seek. Today, they’ll hide their immature, childlike ways, to go seek who they are apart from their parents. Tomorrow, they’ll return to childhood for reassurance that they are on the right track. The lost will look, and sometimes ask for direction again. My daughter will be able to do that, but where will these children go when Dad is the only one that will do? Just thinking about the uncertainty of this time unnerves me. They will figure it out eventually, and be better people for it, but that will be an uphill dirt road. God, bless the strong people in each and every one of those children’s lives.
Parents, may we never take for granted how fragile life can be. Every game of hide-and-go-seek takes that child one step closer to adulthood. Cherish the trial-and-error that is necessary for that development. Finally, when you do get frustrated, because you WILL, just remember the 9/11 children and enjoy even life’s most childish games.
*Special thanks to the 9/11 Interactive Timeline for the information in red. This site was designed and engineered by Archetype for the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.