I remember sitting in my 2nd grade math class as we were discussing geometric shapes. We compared spheres with baseballs and cones to birthday hats (and ice cream cones, of course). I remember watching the ticking hands on the clock as I eagerly waited for the assembly that would be happening later that day. This wasn’t just any old school day- Our local meteorologist, John Cessarich, was coming to teach the elementary school students about tornado safety. I was SO excited- my friends and I were going to be in the presence of our “famous weatherman” whom I watched on the news every morning before school. My friends and I celebrated what we expected to be one of the best days of our 2nd grade lives. Boy, were we wrong.
My 2nd grade teacher was quizzing us on our geometric shapes when the intercom buzzed into our classroom for the first time that day. An office worker had summoned multiple students for early dismissal – none of whom were expecting to leave early. That was weird. I remember making jokes about eating ice cream cones in cone-shaped birthday hats when the office aid called into the classroom for the second or third time and notified our teacher that additional students were being dismissed early. At this point, I wasn’t really sure what was going on. Some students had begun whispering amongst ourselves and throwing out crazy theories as to why so many students were being taken out of school early. Jealousy began to overcome the remaining students as we all wouldn’t have minded getting out of math class early like our peers. I was surprised when the “office lady” buzzed in through the intercom and asked my teacher to send me to the office with my backpack and other belongings. I was being dismissed early! I was excited, at first. When I discovered that the hallways were buzzing with activity, I began to question what was going on. Why are all of us leaving school early? Should I be happy? Do I need to be scared? What on Earth is going on? There were more questions than answers. I was excited to learn that my Mom was waiting for me and a few of my neighborhood friends in the office. I wondered if it was some sort of surprise trip to McDonald’s for lunch. Why else would my Mom be picking up myself and friends from school? Our innocent little minds never would have guessed the news of the events that had unfolded that morning.
We pestered my Mom for details as we walked to the car. The atmosphere was heavy with emotions from everyone around us. Our energy of excitement was quickly diminished to a feeling that I still don’t know how to describe to this day. Our parents clearly weren’t picking us up from school early to take us to McDonald’s or to play hooky. I sulked as it became clear that I would not be attending the assembly at school. I found it SO unfair that I wouldn’t get to be in the same room as John Cessarich. I wouldn’t get to learn about tornados with all the other students.
As we piled into the car, my Mom was trying to figure out how to break the news of the terrorist attack to us four “big kids” before we headed to pick up a younger one from preschool. We were told that two planes had been purposefully flown into the Twin Towers in NYC. There was an attack at the Pentagon, too. Lots of people had died. There were children who would no longer have their parent(s)… Kids just like us. I immediately felt terrible about the complaints I had issued just moments before. This was the day I began to understand the true definition of tragedy. Why, Mom? Why would someone intentionally attack thousands of people? Why, Mom? WHY? This isn’t fair. Our little minds had a hard time grasping the reality of what had happened. When we got home, Mom immediately told us not to turn on the TV. We played outside for hours, with the events of that morning quickly slipping to the backs of our minds. I had not yet seen the haunting images of the planes flying into the towers. After the other kids we brought home with us were picked up by their parents, my mother allowed me to watch the news.
I’ll never forget seeing footage of the Twin Towers collapsing. I’ll never forget the sheer terror that overcame me as I thought about my Dad who was away on a business trip. I began to understand that it could have been me grieving the loss of a loved one. My father flies frequently for work- the company he worked for even had a facility in New York. My father was out of town when the attack on 9/11 transpired and we wanted nothing more than for him to be home with us. Mom explained the reason behind so many parents picking up their children from daycare and school- They wanted to be able to hold their loved ones close as they coped over the loss that thousands of others were grieving. Images of the terrorist attack were playing constantly in our minds, as well as continuous coverage on every news station. For days, my siblings and I were sheltered from the television sets (along with countless children throughout the country). As I reflect on the events of the attack that happened on September 11th, 2001, I find myself with the same thoughts I’d had at 7 years old. I don’t understand why thousands of lives were taken that day and I never will. My level of heartbreak increases with every anniversary of the attacks as I grasp more and more of the realization that it could have been me that lost loved ones in the violent attack. It’s unfortunate that it took something so drastic to bring the country together, but I admire everyone who came together to show me why I’m proud to be an American. Even though I didn’t get to see the weatherman that day, it was clear to me that a dark cloud would be settling over our nation.