A Lifetime Later ....

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was working as a Special Education teacher in Lake Placid, NY. It was the beginning of the school year, and I accompanied the 7th grade, and one student with ASD in particular, to a nearby low-ropes course for a bonding experience to help the kids and teachers get to know each other. The morning began as these things do: awkward sharing activities, jocks excelling at physical challenges while the rest struggle, thrown pinecones, wondering about where the bathroom is. The student I was working most closely with was doing better than expected, participating in most activities to some extent, and otherwise enjoying the woods. I saw my role primarily as that of social-lubricant and relief valve, working mostly at being a non-entity that gave him and his peers gentle nudges to keep the experience fun and functional for everyone, taking short walks with him as needed when it seemed stress was building beyond a useful level. We were just getting back from one of these walks when one of the owners of the ropes-course came by and told me that a plane had flown into one of the Twin Towers. I initially assumed that he was briefing me on the scenario that the kids were involved with on the platforms in front of me, but it quickly became apparent that was not the case. We teachers huddled for a moment while the kids stood waiting, a bit nervous at the unexpected interruption, in the woods around us. We decided to continue with the activities on the assumption that it was a horrible accident, but nothing more. When the owner returned a short while later to inform us that a second plane had followed the first, the decision was made to return to school. Much of the next hours were, for me, thankfully, focussed on the young man I was working with; his needs eclipsed mine, and unintentionally helped me be more the person the children needed, and less the selfish person I desperately wanted to be. My whole family, everyone I care about in the world, live in ‘The City’, and it was long hours before I heard from any of them that they were alive, much less all right. My student, and the other students in the bus, then later, in my classroom, had needs, were scared and upset; that gave me something to think about, and do, in the first hours as everyone in the world found out what was happening in New York and Washington and Pennsylvania. I went home that day a different man than the one I’d been on leaving, in much the same way the world was different from morning to night. My son Ben was born a year later, perhaps in some measure a hopeful middle finger raised and waved against those who would hurt my loved ones and the city of my birth; but now we’ve been at war his whole life. We seem to be at war with all those who hate us, but the war-machine generates hatred faster than it can be stamped out; the fire is spreading, getting away from us, more every day. I remember the world before 9/11. My son has never known that world; will never know that world. The best I can do is remember that world, remember what led us to 9/11, and try to wring a lesson from the endless killing and hate simmering, occasionally boiling over, around the world since that morning; I don’t know how to make the world into the place I want to give Ben. I wish that knowing I want a better world for him was enough.

JS, 9/11/17