Sunday, September 11, 2011

Like it was yesterday

I know this is by no means an original idea or concept, but 9/11 was my generation's Pearl Harbor and JFK Assassination. It's something we'll never forget. It's an event that we'll always remember where we were and what we were doing when it happened. A quick perusal of your friends on Facebook will probably prove that point. I'm no different. I really do remember it like it was yesterday.

I was in my first year of teaching at Mercer. I had been on the job for less than a month being the Social Studies department as well as coaching softball, junior high track and assistant basketball. My room was on the second floor right next door to the high school office. My first hour class was a Senior elective over the Vietnam War and there was only a handful of students enrolled in that semester-long class. We had finished up taking roll (not a difficult task in a school that small) and were chatting about what we had on the agenda that day and the next few. It was at this time that Mr. Hamilton, the high school principal, opened the door and peeked his head in. I had a satellite dish connection in my room so he told me to turn on my TV to one of the networks because a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center. I remember all sorts of thoughts running through me head about how this could happen. Was the weather bad and the pilot had no visibility? Did the pilot have a medical emergency like a heart attack and lose control of the plane? Honestly, the idea of it being a terrorist attack never entered my mind. A few moments later, that thought was forced into all of our minds. As soon as we saw the second plane hit, I left my students for a second and ran next door into Mr. Hamilton's office. I don't know what he was doing, but he appeared somewhat busy. However, I blurted out something along the lines of "The second tower has just been hit!" I returned to my room a moment later and we all sat there with our jaws agape not believing what we were seeing.

The bell rang and my second class of the day came in. It was my 7th grade Geography class. They had just finished up PE and had no idea what was going on. I'll never forget a couple of the students coming in and asking what movie we were watching. I decided to wait until they all arrived to tell them what was going on so that I wouldn't have to explain it a dozen times. After I explained what was going, I had them all turn their desks to the back of the room and we watched TV. That's pretty much all we did in all our classes that day and the next. I told the kids that instead of us learning about history, we were going to watch it unfold. I know they were probably happy to not have to listen to me teach, but given the circumstances, I'm sure they would have rather it been on better terms.

One thing that kind of makes me embarrassed to admit now is what I was thinking when the first tower collapsed. I remember thinking to myself after it fell that it was kind of a bummer but they were probably going to have to tear it down anyway. It hadn't dawned on me yet that there were still so many people still trapped inside. It wasn't until one of the people on TV made mention of it that it hit me.

We also made the news on a smaller scale. Our administration decided to put the building (high school, junior high and elementary were all in the same building) on exterior lockdown. Classes would still go on, but all exterior doors would remain locked with nobody leaving and nobody coming in. This made the local radio news and also led to the administrators receiving some calls from concerned parents wondering if something was going on there. After an event like this, you never know if somebody that was mentally unstable would use this as an excuse or reason to do something stupid, so to hopefully prevent that from happening, we locked down. Fortunately, it never came to that, but better safe than sorry.

The attacks happended on a Tuesday which is a popular high school softball night for many teams. We were to travel to Pattonsburg for a softball doubleheader. Many games and activities in the area were cancelled, but both schools agreed to play the games as scheduled. This controversial decision created a bit of a firestorm for both of us. Administrators were of the mindset that terrorists want us to change the way we do things and get us out of our routines. We knew this was just a high school softball game, but we were going to play it because that's what we were supposed to do that night. We had a moment of silence before the games to honor the fallen and then played the games. Looking back now, I'm still glad we played that night. Not because we won, but because for just a few hours on that day, it wasn't on our minds and things kind of were normal.

That bus ride to Pattonsburg was something else I remember. People had starting speculating that gas prices were going to shoot through the roof. Gas back then was about $1.50/gallon and in some places were price-gouging was going on, it was going for $4-5/gallon and even higher elsewhere. Kids were concerned that the softball and basketball seasons were going to be called off because nobody could afford to travel to games. As we were driving through Princeton, cars were lined up around the corner at Snappy's, all trying to fill up their tanks before the impending price hike. Five hours later, we drove past Snappy's on our way home and the price hadn't move a penny.

You know, I can't remember what I had for dinner last night, but I remember so much about this one day ten years ago. It's amazing how an event like 9/11 can permanently etch itself into our minds for the rest of our lives. That's a good thing. It makes sure that we NEVER FORGET.

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