On September 11, 2001, I was working as a substitute teacher in the local public school system while finishing my dissertation for my PhD. That morning, I was teaching half the day in a 4th grade classroom and then meeting with my PhD advisor in the afternoon to discuss a few final draft edits to my dissertation manuscript. I never made it to that afternoon meeting.
At about 10:00 am, the principal of the school I was teaching in came into the classroom and asked to speak to me out in the hall. Being pretty new to the substitute teacher thing, I thought I had inadvertently messed up some paperwork or something. Instead it was far worse, but I didn’t know it yet. The principal said that a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers and that they were not discussing it with the kids yet so if I heard anything just keep it to myself for now. I said okay and my brain immediately assumed it was accidental, and a small plane of some sort. At noon the regular teacher came to take over the class and I left to go to my meeting. I turned on the radio, and within minutes I had pulled my car over and was frantically calling my finance (now spouse) on my cell phone. “Two PASSENGER planes hit the World Trade Center? And the Pentagon? On PURPOSE? The towers FELL? PASSENGER planes? From AIRLINES?” I just kept repeating it. Passenger planes? Towers collapsed? Pentagon hit? It was like my brain couldn’t absorb the words. Passenger planes? I think my brain still can’t just a little bit.
I eventually drove home and like much of the US if not the world was glued to my television for days and spent hours on the phone with loved ones and friends finding out if anyone I personally knew was one of the lost. I am one of the lucky ones, no one I knew personally died that day. Although six years later I still feel like pulling over the car and sobbing every time Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning” comes on the radio. Teaching a class full of innocent children, whose lives changed that day just as much as mine did. I know that awful, terrible things happen in the world every single day, and that the US has been extremely lucky in many ways that this was the first terrorist attack of this magnitude on our own soil. It still feels unreal in many ways to me, like I can’t quite wrap my brain around it.
I look at my two children, and it makes me both relieved and incredulous that the words “September Eleventh” will not carry the same pain and anguish and shock and sadness in their hearts. They will know what happened, they will learn about it, but nothing can exactly replicate being in that moment in your heart. My parents used to tell me about the Vietnam War and how it felt to be alive then and I know I never truly understood it the way they did. As my daughter sleeps soundly next to me as I type this, I am thankful that such pain is not part of her personal past. Although I have no ability to control this, I can hope that there will not be a day in her future which she could describe as the day the world stopped turning for her.
I’ll be back to the regular posting schedule and the personal finance topics tomorrow. For today, I am spending time with my family and letting the remembering quietly sift over me.
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