9/11, Pentagon, terror, Winston Churchill High School

11 Years Later

I remember exactly where I was when I learned that the first plane had hit the Twin Towers. I was a teacher at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland and I was on a break during second period. When I walked into the English department office, someone was talking about what had happened and a grainy television was showing strange images. Smoke…loud noises…chaos.

When I first heard that a plane had crashed into one of the towers, I, in my eternally naive thought-process, said out loud, “Well, how in the world did they get a plane and steal it without anyone in it? Where did they get it from?”

In my wildest dreams it never occurred to me that they would use a plane full of innocent lives as a weapon.

One of the teachers was distraught beyond what the rest of us were experiencing. Her daughter’s fiance worked at the Twin Towers. I kept reassuring her that the plane had crashed early enough that he probably wasn’t at work yet. Surely it would be ok.

It wasn’t.

And then, I was tasked with the job of starting third period, and of telling the teenage children what was going on. I couldn’t lie and continue with business as usual – they had already heard the buzz. And so, in the most plain terms, I tried to explain what I knew. I had very little information, because the internet was completely jammed – there was no way to go online or to get more information.

“But my dad’s at the Pentagon,” one said, with eyes that were filling with tears.

“My dad’s in New York.”

“My mom’s flying home today from up north somewhere.”

And on and on it went. And I stood there, pretending to be the strong teacher, reassuring the students that everything would be alright.

But it wouldn’t, not for a long time, if ever.

Finally, finally the principal came on the loud speaker and told everyone that they needed to go home.

With great relief, I told them to go right home and I made sure that all of my students were safely out of the building.

And then I sat down at my desk, and I cried.

And I don’t think I stopped for days. Yes, I was hormonal, carrying Yehuda during my second pregnancy. But I know I wasn’t alone in my grief.

I cried for the injustice of the world, for all of the innocent people whose lives were ripped away from them, for the families left behind, for the hatred the murderers showed, for the heroes who were flooding the news.

And for myself.

I cried, feeling completely exposed, and wondering how I was supposed to be a strong teacher and a strong mother; how I was supposed to protect those in my care when such events are able to occur.

Certainly, I’m still looking for the answers to some of those questions.

And I’ve moved to a place in the world that knows this type of pain only too well, and only too often.

As we approach Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, may it be one of renewal, and not pain; one of strength, and not agony; one of hope, and not fear. May we have no more times when we can pinpoint exactly where we were on a given day and recount every small detail – unless it’s the result of a simcha (a joyous moment).


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