Twenty years ago today, after my early morning message to our campus and my usual morning walkabout through hallways and classrooms, a relatively peaceful start to another school day commenced. I made my way back to the front office in time to take a phone call from a parent who happened to be in NYC on business that day. We visited briefly as he began to share the reason for his call. During the course of our conversation, the landline crackled, there was a horrific explosive sound, and the call went dead. I attempted to call him back but nothing connected. The front office phones started ringing and all four landlines jammed. I remember a chilling, sinking feeling washing down my body (Granny called them “riggers”); our school was out in the country and something felt completely OFF. Little did we know…
In the course of working through the temporary moment of panic (we had no set protocols back in those days for lockdown or shelter-in-place), I decided to lock all the exterior doors of our campus in order to mitigate outside traffic. The librarian caught me in the hallways as she wheeled a TV to the office and asked me to join her as we witnessed the second plane crashing into the other tower of the World Trade Center. Before we could comment, the reporter broke in to share that the Pentagon was on fire and another plane crashed into a Pennsylvania field. I alerted and updated teachers in person, asking them not to turn on TV or radio, but to teach and maintain a schedule while keeping email open for updates from me. My assistant principal and counselor stationed themselves at the front door so no one came in or out without ID. The office staff manned the non-stop phone calls and checked out students as parents arrived. Recess was forgotten that day. We got through the school day in a controlled, terrorized fog. Little did we know in those first moments of terror and uncertainty just how much all our lives would completely change.
While still in the midst of a global pandemic, we mark 20 years since this fateful day. Ironically, certain aspects and outcomes of this terrifying time in our history still resonate: All the children who will never see a parent again; all the families who have lost a loved one; all the individuals on the front lines of defense who have sacrificed themselves in order to assist and care for others; all the uncertainty and long-term effects for those who continue to struggle and search for answers… We see you and we hear you; may we never forget!
Likewise, a powerful image of hope emerges: all those who sprint into action to assist; all the scientists, healthcare workers, front-line workers, researchers, and supporters continuing to work endless shifts for answers and cures; all the educators and parents teaching, working, and keeping the home fires going; all the small business owners investing in their communities while their communities invest in them; all those folks simply acting in supreme kindness day in and day out even in the darkest of moments (just like a complete stranger who made certain that dad in 2001 made it out of that first tower alive and home to an anxious family). We are beyond grateful; may we never forget!
With so much political divide, the constant barrage of ugliness in words and deeds in a 24/7 vortex, the resistance to needed change for centuries-long systemic issues, or, just simply being asked to wear a mask, get tested, or get a vaccine, we all need to STOP for a collective second and just breathe. Breathe in and breathe out because we can. Breathe in and breathe out to re-center our own humanity. We have life and so much more. One simple truth continues to prevail no matter our situation: there is always more uniting us than dividing us in this country. We are still “one Nation, under God, indivisible; with Liberty and Justice for ALL…” We are not here to BE right; we are here to get it right. We are here to DO the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. I know it; you know it. And on this particular Patriot’s Day, 20 years later (and every day), may we never, ever forget.