So that we never forget....
That day I altered my routine. Always, always on the way to work, I started the day by listening to the news. In addition to English classes, I taught Journalism, so I felt compelled to always be aware of what was going on in the world. And really, I was a bit of a news junkie anyway.
But that day... A few weeks before, I had agreed to marry the man I'd been dating, but I was having second thoughts, and I needed some time to think things through, so I turned on some music for most of the half hour drive to work. Two miles from Jurupa Valley High School, where I worked at the time, I switched over to KFWB (which was still all news and talk at the time). I could be mistaken, but I believe anchor Jack Popejoy had the grim task of reporting what was going on in New York and Washington that morning.
Like everyone else across the country, from the moment I began to piece together what was going on, I was simply in a state of shock, unable to focus on anything else. I don't remember driving or parking or unlocking my room. I remember the faces of my colleagues... and I remember how quiet it was on campus. Students were shocked, too, but they were also very frightened. Rumors had already begun that Los Angeles would be targeted, or March Air Reserve Base just a few miles away.
Some teachers made the decision to focus away from the attacks, to distract their students with busy work, but in my mind, they deserved to know as much accurate information as could be obtained, so we sat with the radio on in my classes while I tried to reassure my fourteen-year-old freshmen that they were safe. I fielded questions that began, "But what would we do if...?" and I tried to discourage the xenophobia that had already begun to raise its ugly head.
For my Journalism class, I called the office and got permission to take my students into the teachers' lounge because there was a television in that room. I told the kids to be quiet and respectful, but I didn't need to; when they filed into the lounge and saw teachers sitting in front of the TV wiping tears from their faces, they realized the gravity of the situation. We sat for forty-five minutes, just watching. The room was silent except for the news coverage and the sound of weeping. When the bell rang, the kids stood and filed out to go to their next class. No one spoke.
I don't remember driving home. I remember spending hours in front of the TV late into the evening, two of my adult children and two of my grandchildren huddled close by in our family room. One of my most vivid memories was asking my son and daughter to come talk to me after I got in bed. My grief by then was so profound, I didn't think I would ever be able to fall asleep, and I wanted theirs to be the last voices I heard as I drifted off, I suppose to replace the nightmarish sounds I'd been hearing all day.
All of our lives were changed by the events of September 11, 2001. We've had to come to grips with the truth that the unthinkable can happen on a bright, clear beautiful September morning... that thousands of innocent people can be snuffed out in a moment by the machinations of hate. I lament the fact that we have to live every day with that truth. But we do.
As a counterbalance to that truth, however, we also witnessed, on September 11 and in the days after, powerful and miraculous acts of courage, heroism, self-sacrifice and human kindness. When called upon, we can all extend a hand of rescue, strength, grace and goodness. That is the truth I strive to keep in the forefront of my memory.