Ten years ago, the morning was luminous and rich blue. The faces of the children in First Born Son's kindergarten classroom reflected the radiance of the day- full of promise, beaming with eagerness to learn. We were only one week into the school year. My friend, Amy, who was their kindergarten teacher, generously allowed me to volunteer in her room with Henry in tow (she knew I wasn't ready to cut the cord to my first born yet). I remained in the room while Amy escorted the little learners to their first bathroom break of the morning. Henry studiously engineered a tower of blocks. The classroom phone rang, the principal (my dear Aunt Liz) instructed me to tune the radio to the news. I fumbled through the stations until I found NPR. There was something glaringly wrong- the reporter's voice was unsteady, unprofessional, all too- human. A plane crashed in Manhattan- conflicting reports on which building was hit, no further details.
When I shared the news with Amy, she sent me to the office to watch the live feed on NBC. With Henry on my lap, I tried to make sense of the information, the exact location. And, then, the second plane pierced the second tower. We thought we were watching a replay- but, it was all wrong. The reporters voices were different, frantic. They were reacting to live action. At that moment we knew this was not an accident. Everything in the room was suspended- the clock stopped ticking, our breathing desisted, our blood froze, but our minds kept running: What just happened? Is this real? What does it mean? It was as if the world was opening up, ready to swallow us whole. I remember more teachers calling down to the office or sending their aides to gather information. Many had relatives who were working in the World Trade Center. Was it possible that they escaped unscathed? I remember parents calling- wanting to pick up their kids. Some feared that there would be more attacks around the country- that our close proximity to Niagara Falls made us vulnerable. My Aunt Liz, understood their fears- she would not keep anyone from retrieving their children; but, she also did her best to assure panicked parents that their children were safe. But, how do you go about the rest of the day-keeping the children sheltered from the news when your face is benumbed- twisted into a stunned expression, your mind replaying the horror of what you now understand to be a national tragedy?
I remember, after briefly entertaining the most morbid of thoughts of being separated from my child during an attack, I decided to leave Max with Amy at school. I knew he was in the care of someone who loved him. I drove to my father's house which was four blocks away from school. He hadn't left for work yet. I could read in his eyes the disbelief that must have also been reflected in mine. I can't remember if we even spoke to each other. We sat on the couch witnessing again and again a tragedy (multiple tragedies) unfolding on television-the weight in our chests anchoring us there. The images on the screen were what I had always imagined the end of the world to look like. I remember feeling very small and helpless like a child-needing the protection and reassurance of her father's presence. I remember feeling that nothing in those moments made sense. Architecture, industry, glory, life- reduced to rubble and ash.
I remember First Born Son repeatedly asking if the smoke from the buildings was going to come to our house. I remember wanting to hold onto him and Henry and The Mr. more tightly. I remember going to sleep under the veil of my nation's mourning. I remember feeling heartbroken and angry (but, I wasn't exactly sure who I was angry at). I remember that the days which followed were wrought with endless moments of trying to make sense in a wounded world- trying to understand not only this raw tragedy but others much farther away- those we had so effortlessly closed our eyes to. We hung a flag. We bowed our heads. We wished for peace, protection, for the return of hope and life. We were told to move forward and we did.
I remember the conflicting feelings of Americans- the abject anger versus the desperate desire for unity. I remember my own patriotism challenged by two disparate experiences which occurred on a brief shopping trip. I encountered a blonde, fair skinned middle aged couple who, with disdain, assessed my dark skin and dark hair- features which could be plugged into any of the races Americans were warned to be wary of. The man just shook his head- the woman paused when passing me, crinkling her nose, shaking her head in disgust, baring her teeth and letting the 'tsk tsk' sound slip off her tongue. She believed that I was from a country which had brought torment and pain upon her nation; and, it was well within her right to admonish me. And then I had an encounter on the other end of the spectrum. I was in a dressing room, trying on pants, when the attendant came in to offer her assistance, "Does anyone need a different size, a different color, a hug, perhaps?" I remember wondering if this was our changed nation or if this was just the collective guard being let down- our true feelings and perceptions exposed. Whatever it was, it made me return home and stress upon my young children to not judge the appearance of others, to try their best to take the time to understand their fellow citizens regardless of their beliefs; to be open and accepting of the diversity in our country.
My children do not remember the events of 9/11/01. They only know the now. But, I remember that day, a morning which began with such clarity, a day so full of promise.