Twenty-one years ago, this morning, I was welcoming my seventh graders into my geography classroom. It was early in the year in the year, and we were building routines and learning. I was learning their names and faces and the lesson for the day was the water cycle.
I don’t remember the first two classes, but I do remember when a counselor came into the classroom towards the end of the second class, about 9:20 AM or so. She waited until the class ended, the third period class had entered, and settled and until after the bell had rung and then she made the announcement that earlier in the morning America had been attacked. Her message was scripted and every classroom in our school go the same message at the same time.
I don’t remember the exact text of the message, but I can close my eyes and go back to room B111 on September 11, 2001 and picture the layout of the room on that morning.
On nine-eleven two thousand one, I was 39 and my students were 12.
This past spring, I began volunteering regularly at Loaves and Fishes on Thursday after school. I had been volunteering on Saturdays since early 2020, but I decided to add a new day. Soon, I had been asked to be the lead volunteer for my part of the operation on Thursday afternoon. Loaves and Fishes is a wonderful place, and I am thankful to be part of an organization that helps people in need, especially when the cost of groceries and gasoline have increased significantly. I have also discovered a community of people who care about others, and I have met several parents of former students who volunteer for the organization. It’s a small world.
It was the last day of school and summer had begun when I walked into the market at Loaves and Fishes for my Thursday afternoon shift.
I saw Michelle and we greeted each other, and she shared a story with me. It went something like this:
Michelle – you teach at Scullen, right?
Me – yes, I do.
Michelle – Do remember Judy? She was the nurse.
Me – Yes, I remember Judy and I remember having her son Joey in class. It’s been a log time.
Michelle – I was at a going away party last weekend for Judy. She’s retired and moving to Wisconsin, and I mentioned I had me you at Loaves and Fishes. She remembered you and we were talking, and Allison overheard us and joined our conversation, do remember her?
Me – yes, I do. I do remember that name – it was our first year at the school and we were all new.
Michelle – well, she remembers you.
Me – WOW. Really? I remember her, too. I hadn’t thought about that name since she was in my class. That’s a long time ago.
Michelle – yes, it was and she does. She told the two of us that every year on 9/11, she remembers being in your class and being scared and that you were calm and reassured her and the class that everything would be okay.
Me – WOW (and at this point I am beginning to tear up)
Michelle – Ally’s married and has two kids and lives in the area.
Me – We all grow up, thank you for telling me this.
That’s how I remember our conversation and it’s stuck with me since.
This summer I started my baseball trip in New York City. The first game was Sunday at Yankee Stadium and after the game I drove to Washington, D. C. for another game. I returned Tuesday for third game and the possibility of visiting the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum. Unfortunately, the museum was closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at the time I was in New York City. But I figured I could at least visit the Memorial before I left for my Philadelphia and game four.
Tuesday night I set alarm for early Wednesday morning, before sunrise. My plan was to walk to the memorial which was less than a mile away from my hotel. It was early morning twilight, and I was surrounded by tall buildings blocking much of the light. New York City was beginning to waken, even though I suspect the city never sleeps, it’s always moving. Cars, buses, and trucks were beginning start the day and few people were walking with me. Some going to work and other heading home.
I passed a church that was refuge on 9/11 and the days after as people sought comfort.
Soon, I was there. Sadly, I discovered a yellow ribbon surrounding the south tower and I looked to the north and it appeared that the yellow ribbon cordoned off the memorial.
It was 5:34 AM. I spotted a sign on top of a stanchion, and it said that the memorial was closed and would open at 10 AM.
So, after a moment of thinking what to do, the memorial was closed. Normally, I am a rule follower, but that Wednesday morning I decided to slip under the yellow ribbon and I walked to the edge of the south tower. I was ‘that guy,’ the guy who breaks the rules. It was quiet, I was the only one there. I spent a few moments looking at the names on the edge of what was once an imposing tower and I peered over the edge. The only sound was the hum of the waking city. The fountains which flow over the edge of the rim into the depths of the memorial were off. It was closed.
I thought of that day twenty years ago, where I was then and where I am now. I thought of the time in between and I thought of the story I had heard less than a month before.
I said a prayer of remembrance and gratitude and I heard a shout; I had been discovered.
I moved outside the yellow ribbon and finished my prayer.
It was quiet and still, and I watched another person do what I did and get the same treatment. I finished my thought captured the moment with photos and the video below.
I went on about my morning. I returned to my hotel and put together my New York Met’s post, packed up, and left for Philly.
My mind bounced back and forth to that day teaching geography in B111 to being at Ground Zero to that conversation at Loaves and Fishes and wondering what has happened since.
On 9/11 and the days that followed we were together.
We shared a common experience. We grieved. We looked for why. We were empathetic with one another. We cooperated. We looked for good. We forgave the bad. We reassured each other it would be all right.
But we’ve changed and gone back to being divisive. We can’t compromise. We’re a mess.
On nine-eleven two thousand twenty-two, I am 60 and my students are all grown ups they’re in their early thirties, they’ve found careers, they’ve married, and a few have started families.
We need to change, but I can only change me. I can start with me. I can be the change that I want to see in the world. I am going to do my best be the calm the world needs. Making the Days Count, one day at a time, being the calm my world needs.
Where were you on 9/11?
NOTE – Posted on the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum website for the weekend
Please note the following changes to our hours of operation for the weekend of the 21st anniversary commemoration. Saturday, September 10: The Museum will be closed from 2 p.m. on to welcome 9/11 community members. Sunday, September 11: The Memorial will be closed to the public until 3 p.m. for the commemoration ceremony. The Museum will remain closed to the public all day so that 9/11 families may visit privately.