September 11th, 2001. Where were you? What were you doing? I bet as soon as anyone says that date, if you were alive, you know where you were. For me, I was in Mrs. Moore’s first grade class. It was Jimmy’s birthday and we were eating the cupcakes his mom had sent in as his treat. I remember Mrs. Druga coming into the room and calling Mrs. Moore out into the hallway. We didn’t think much of that — teachers called each other into the hallway to talk all of the time. But then, our secretary, Mrs. Giles, came on the loud speaker. She called for an entire family of children to come to the office “and bring your things.” That was rare. Whole families were never called to the office and sent home early! I thought maybe they were going on vacation and felt a little jealous that they got to go home. A few minutes later, Mrs. Giles came on again and asked yet another group of children to come to the office with their things.
I don’t remember actually sitting in our desks that day. I don’t remember playing outside for recess. I do remember looking out the window of our classroom on the second floor of our castle-like school and noticing how bright blue the sky was. It was an absolutely beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky, the sun shining — the kind of day that would have been perfect for drawing chalk on the hot black asphalt parking lot we played in and jumping rope to the rhyme book that Mrs. Moore would read aloud to us. “Cinderella, dressed in yellow, went upstairs and kissed a fellow…”
We never went outside for recess. Mrs. Moore let us play on the carpet all afternoon, never once making us go to our desks. So many children had gone home already that Jimmy had enough cupcakes left over for everyone to have seconds. As I sat there, looking around at the five other children left in my class of 22, I wondered what was going on. Mrs. Moore never told us — and I silently thank her every year for that. She sat and watched us play, asked Jimmy about his plans for his birthday, helped us with the listening station, and kept us occupied. Occasionally, she went back into the hallway to talk to a teacher, but always came right back to us. We never turned on a TV. She never told us about the bad men who crashed the planes, or about the thousands of people, mommies and daddies, who died when those towers fell. I would learn all of that when I got home. Seeing my dad’s car parked in the driveway (Daddy’s home?! He’s never home before us!) I would walk in the house, drop my backpack on the kitchen floor, turn the corner to the living room and see Dad sitting there, strangely glued to the TV. Mom would seem nervous, asking us about our day, trying to keep us distracted. When I mentioned all of the other kids that went home that day, Mom and Dad would explain the events of the morning. I remember the first thing I said was, “Why didn’t you come get us?!” My mom would calmly say, “we thought you were safer staying put at school.”
For a while, I was angry with the way my school, Mrs. Moore, and my parents handled September 11th, 2001. Growing up, hearing stories of friends from other schools who were sent into lockdown, immediately evacuated, sent to the church to say the Rosary for 2 hours, I felt my school missed the mark in some way. Why didn’t they react?! Why didn’t we do something more drastic?! However, as I got older, I slowly began to appreciate the way those who were charged with my care chose to carry on that fateful day.
September 11th, 2001 was a day that truly changed lives. Not only the lives of those affected — the wounded, the killed, the missing, their families and friends, — but everyone. It changed the way Americans viewed their country. It changed the way we looked at our everyday lives. In an instant, in a matter of seconds on sunny September morning, America was a totally new country. However, back in Crafton, PA, in Mrs. Moore’s first grade class, my life as I had known it carried on. I sat with my classmates, I ate cupcakes with blue sprinkles, I played at indoor recess. Mrs. Moore made a conscious decision that day, one that I will be forever grateful for. On a day where our world was changed, where it was clear to see that her room of 22 bright eyed first graders were no longer going to grow up in a world where war was something we read about in history books, she chose to preserve our innocence, even if just for six more hours. She chose to shield us from the pain that the rest of the country was experiencing. She chose to not let us see her cry, and I am sure she cried at some point that day. Rather, she watched us play. She laughed as we got icing on our faces and helped clean us up. She allowed us to be children for a little longer, to still believe we lived in a safe and happy world, where bad men were only found in movies and books, and everything was okay.
Soon afterward, our world drastically changed. The school installed a new buzzer system to see who was trying to get into the building. We practiced “lockdown drills,” where we had to cram into the boys bathroom and stay as silent as we could. At some point, the word terrorism entered our vocabulary. We flinched when we heard planes flying overhead. We got scared when Dad said he had to go on a business trip. And then the war came. We saw images of young men on our news every night. We saw the bombings in the Middle East, the shooting, the violence. We heard about the explosions. And, when the soldiers started coming home, we saw the true effects of war. We saw missing legs, soldiers with no arms, soldiers with disfigured faces and scars. Soldiers that couldn’t be in large crowds, that couldn’t stand the sound of fireworks. Soldiers that didn’t know how to go back to their lives before they were soldiers, before the towers fell and the nation became afraid.
We grew up in this world. We allowed the fear and terrorism to creep slowly into our lives. By the time we entered college, mass shootings, terrorism, and war heroes were as common to us as they were foreign to generations before. We watched movies about events we had lived through, and recalled with fuzzy memories what we were doing when this instance occurred.
We never forgot that day though. It has shaped our lives in more ways than we could ever imagine. We couldn’t un-see the images that flashed across our television screens late at night. We had no choice but to learn how to cope with the fear, to take special note of the exits when we entered a room. We watched, with fear, as the hatred and spite magnified in our country. We saw our own people turn on one another; gunning down their fellow Americans because they were “different.” Our country turned from one founded as a place of refuge, a place where individuals could come and live in peace, back into a place of hatred, violence, and disgust.
We cannot forget that day, though. We cannot disregard the way in which our country was changed. We can, however, take a note from Mrs. Moore. We can work to see the good in the world. We can try to teach the next generation to be the good in the world. We can help our children to preserve their innocence. We can change this world and make it a better, more peaceful place. While we are doing all of these things, we are not forgetting, we are remembering.