“Where Were You When the World Stop Turning?” – Alan Jackson
It was 15 years ago today and anyone who was alive has a story.
It was a day like any other day. Just like in New York, it was blue skies and beautiful. I got up, went to work and had class just like normal. I was working at a middle school in a suburb just outside of Chicago and a new student was starting my class – Tom. He arrived with his brother who was in another class. It was my conference hour when they arrived and I was preparing my lessons for the rest of the day, so I had my parapro show them around.
When she returned she said, “There’s something going on in the library. All the teachers are gathered around the TV in the office.”
“OK, I’ll go see what’s happening.”
I walked down the hall to the library and found a bunch of teachers gathered around the TV in the back office. Turning I saw the TV and the smoking towers. I didn’t say anything and just listened to the news commentators talk about what was happening. Slowly I moved through the crowd of my fellow teachers and watched in horror as the video of the plane crashing into the tower was replayed. OMG. That was all I could think. Then they went to a live feed where the towers were smoking. Finally I asked, “What is going on?”
“Two planes crashed into the twin towers in New York.” A fellow teacher stated and then silence again as we all watched and listened to the news. The first tower was crumbling to the ground. OMG. There was smoke and debris everywhere. I remember the news commentators gushing their disbelief. The tower just collapsed.
I watched for a little longer and then had to leave. It was too much. How was this happening? I returned to my room and told my parapro what I had just learned. The United States was under attack, or so it seemed at the time. No one really knew for sure what was happening and the news reports declared that it could not have been an accident – not twice.
Heading next door, I thought to tell my fellow teacher, but she was busy with students and I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know how to interrupt her or how to mention it to the students. I believe looking back that I was in some state of shock.
We received an email from our principal that told us what they knew and a statement that we could tell our students. What do we tell the students?
After telling them they had a lot of questions and didn’t really seem to understand the significance of what was happening. We didn’t really know how to tell them. Instead we told them to talk to their parents when they got home tonight. By then we would also have more information about what was happening.
The rest of the day went on as usual. I few parents showed up to take their children home and there were a few who wanted to call their parents that worked downtown. All the tall buildings in Chicago were being evacuated and it was difficult for some students to contact their parents. It had been determined that this was a planned attack and all the planes were being grounded as well as the tall buildings across the country incase another attack was planned.
The internet wasn’t as up to speed on things as it is now and it took a while to load anything. Understanding what happened would have to wait. Once I was home I could watch the news and figure out what was happening.
I stayed late preparing for the lessons to be given the next day. Many teachers left right after school was out to get home to their families. I didn’t have anyone and was in no hurry to leave. I remember walking out of the school building and being surprised by how quiet it was. There were no planes in the air and the only sound was the twitter of the birds. My school was only twenty minutes from O’Hare and there were always planes flying in the sky. The streets were deserted and all the stores were closed. People just went home after work to spend time with their families. It was eerie.
I thought I would show a movie tomorrow so the students could see something besides what was on their televisions at home. Best Buy was closed, so I headed home. Everything was closed. At my house, I turned on the TV and was glued there the rest of the night. Listening to what the news commentators could tell us, watching the scenes again and again, hearing survivor stories, not knowing what to do to help. It was agonizing and I cried. I called my parents and we cried together.
I had a hard time sleeping that night. Too many images and too many questions. What little we knew that day.