Thursday, September 11, 2003

This morning, our scratchy PA system played a recording of America The Beautiful, as I stood in my empty classroom with cool, clear sunlight flooding the empty desks and the clean tile floor. September 11th will probably always be a chilly morning that turns sunny and warm, the sky that absolutely pure blue with a few still clouds. I will probably always be standing in a classroom, only a few days into the school year, just getting to know the children. It won't be long before the new sixth graders will have been too young to really know what was happening on Sept. 11th, and it won't be long after that before the new sixth graders won't even have been born in 2001.

Two years ago, I walked into my AP's office to silence, a few teachers gathered around a radio, the news that the Towers had been attacked, were burning, were collapsing. I could not remember whether my boyfriend worked in the Trade Center or not, or which building, or what floor, or his phone number, or really anything helpful at all. Two minutes later, the bell rang, and I walked into a double-period (90 minutes) with a class that had, only a few days into the school year, already begun to be my "difficult" class. A few minutes later, parents started arriving, and the principal began listing the names of students over the loudspeaker: Please come to the main office. Later, as more parents arrived, and more, and more: Please come to the auditorium. Please come to the gym. I can only imagine what the students thought, as they had no idea why they were being called out of class by the dozen.

I tried to continue class - I certainly couldn't tell them the truth right then, even if I knew what it was - but was interrupted over and over again by the loudspeaker. One student, Raheem,* was cutting up. He asked to go the bathroom, but I said no, not the way he was behaving. I really thought he was pulling a fast one, trying to cut class. Near the end of the period, other students told me Raheem was crying. He had wet his pants, and was humiliated and angry. I imagined my friends in San Francisco in danger. I imagined our country at war, right then. I told Raheem I was so sorry, that we would call his mother to bring him new pants. I imagined trying to explain all this to his mother. Finally, finally, lunchtime came, an AP helped me find extra pants for Raheem - it was all a blur, walking around the school, everyone stunned and busy, asking for pants for a completely unrelated crisis. Lunch ended, and a dozen children came back to my homeroom class. By now, they had heard a little of what was going on... I tried to answer questions, without giving any misinformation. In the end, I told them I thought we should just read a book, so I picked up Harry Potter, sat down, and started reading, in my gentlest, gentlest voice.

Media people have been asking whether New Yorkers are "over it" yet: today the memory of that other morning overcame me and I found myself holding onto the closet door as a deep sadness tried to pull me down. Are we over it? It is now possible to forget for a few hours the significance of today's date, then remember it again, forget again, re-remember. After the moment of silence today, there were children with bad colds and nosebleeds, an argument between a student and a teacher, visitors from the Regional Office... schools go on, full of moments that have nothing to do with history but great immediate significance. Yet, there are times when the day is clear and warm and the sky is the bluest blue, when I look out the window and realize that I have no idea what is going on even a few miles away, that on any day, no matter how beautiful, the next terrible thing could happen.

Raheem's mother never brought up the wet pants. I like to think that maybe, when he's grown up and thinks back on that day, Raheem will be a little forgiving of me.

*Names of students are pseudonyms.


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1:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

september 11 really do shock all of us... but dont pin point it to religion, it is person who doing it regardless their religion... respect and u'll be resppected..

1:17 AM  

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