Years ago, I wrote three separate blog posts about 9/11. The first was about where I was when it happened. The second was when a class of first graders asked me questions about what happened, and the third was a ceremony that the entire school participated in.
I wrote these short pieces of writing on a blog that paid writers by the page click (and that no longer exists).
I read “Where were you on 9/11” on episode 040 of my Words of Jen podcast.
One: Where were you on 9/11?
September 11, 2001, I was asleep as the news started to roll in. My then boyfriend (now husband) liked to listen to the radio as he woke up. I was there with him but the radio had not woken me up yet. I’m a deep sleeper.
I was able to spend the night at his place because I didn’t have work the next day. I was working as a substitute teacher at the time, and would often have to get up really early to drive back home and then get ready for school, after spending nights with him. I was looking forward to sleeping in that day.
Shawn was listening to a “morning zoo” program that aired in the midwest. “Mancow” Muller was the “shock jock” running the show. He and his crew were known for saying all kinds of crazy things on air. Most of the time, what he was talking about wasn’t really happening – and that would be easy to figure out the more he talked.
I remember Shawn waking me up, saying something about a plane hitting a tower. I wasn’t awake enough to fully grasp what was going on. He said he was going to get out of bed, turn on the TV in the living room, and check the news. Sleepy, I eventually worked out what he was saying, but still did not understanding everything. I got out of bed followed him to the couch.
There we sat, huddled in blankets for warmth on an unusually cool September morning, eyes glued to the TV. A plane had hit the tower of the World Trade Center. The news was doing a live feed of the damage. It was surreal. How could this have happened? Was this real?
The live feed continued as a second plane came on screen. I remember saying “There’s another plane!” We watched as it hit the second tower. Shawn and I sat, mesmerized by the news. We sat there for what seemed like hours, trying to comprehend what happened. Dazed and shocked, we sat, silent. The world had changed forever, in ways we would not entirely realize until much later. We had each other, though, and that was more than enough.
Two: How to say “Terrorist” in Spanish
There was an elementary school that I subbed at very frequently because the other subs refused to teach there. One of the reasons was because some of the classes were taught in Spanish. I was one of very few subs that could read, speak, and understand Spanish enough to sub for those classes.
One day, shortly after 9/11, I was teaching a social studies lesson to a class of first graders. They were taking turns reading aloud from the textbook. The book was old, and just so happened to show a picture of the World Trade Center.
Suddenly, the students got very quiet. They looked at one another, and somehow, selected a child to speak for all of them. In a mix of English and Spanish, the boy asked me if it would be ok for them to ask me questions about the planes. He said they had been trying to ask their teacher questions, but she refused to answer.
I accepted. The discussion was interesting. These students had watched the video of the planes hitting the towers, over and over again, on the news. They thought that each time the video appeared it meant that a new plane had hit yet another building. They also thought this had happened in Chicago, the nearest city.
I tried my best to explain what really happened. I told them that it was one video, being shown over and over, not new planes hitting new buildings. I got a map and pointed to where New York was and then to where Chicago was, and then to where they were.
One student asked me, “Teacher, who is doing this?” I hesitated. I had not yet learned enough Spanish to fully explain this. I didn’t have the vocabulary. Another little boy piped up. “Las terroristas!” he informed the class.
“Si!” I confirmed, “Las terroristas.” Never in my life would I have guessed that I’d need to use that phrase in an elementary school classroom – in any language.
Three: Singing in a Circle
I drove through my small town and across a little bridge. (The school was in the next town over). All the little stores I passed had an American flag on display. Some were on flagpoles attached to the building, and others covered the big glass windows of the stores. There were patriotic colored banners attached to all the poles that held street lights. The bridge had dozens of small American flags lining both sides.
I’d seen this around the 4th of July – but it was September. It struck me as strange, though I understood why the decorations were there.
Upon arriving at school, I learned that the school was participating in a ceremony in regards to 9/11. At the right time, I led my students outside. The teacher’s aides and I helped the kindergarteners form a circle, and had everyone hold hands. All of the other classrooms were doing the same thing – both here and at the other local schools.
Everyone got silent and listened to the church bells ring. We had a moment of silence after they stopped. This was to be followed by everyone singing the national anthem and “America the Beautiful” together. The older students had been taught both of those songs, and could easily participate.
I was with several classrooms of students who had Spanish as a first language. Some of the teacher’s aides were more comfortable speaking Spanish than English. The adults may have known the words to the songs, but weren’t ready to lead the singing. It’s difficult to sing in a language that you are still trying to learn.
So, I started singing. I could hear some of the other adults joining in. The older kids did, too. I looked around and saw that my kindergartners were rather confused. They realized that something important was happening, though. Those that didn’t sing remained silent. Looks of concern passed over their faces as they watched the adults, their teachers, singing with tears rolling down their cheeks. I’ll never forget that moment.
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