September 10, 2010
Static and Strong: God Bless America
September 11, 2001
I was teaching kindergarten in a beautiful quiet community in Warwick NY. Warwick is in southern Orange County 1 hour north of New York City. Many residents take advantage of the close proximity to NYC and commute to their jobs there such as FDNY and NYPD.
It was the first week of school and I was at the bus port waiting to guide my students to our classroom. Just as the buses were arriving a school aide walked over to me to tell me she just got off the phone with her husband and her exact words were "they are bombing New York City." I am not gullible and I don't fall for things that easily but there was a certain chill in her voice that I could not shake. There was some chatter amongst staff but no alarm as we now had hundreds of kids we needed to be responsible for so we all continued on to our classrooms.
My students and I started our day together on the rug saying the Pledge of Allegiance, singing and reading. When my principal walked into the classroom I knew instantly there was something wrong. She pulled me into the hallway to tell me that there were 2 airplanes that were flown into the world trade center. I went back to my students, finished up our last task and lined them up at the door and went into another kindergarten classroom. My colleague and I put our classes together on her rug and put on an educational movie so that we could collect our thoughts and make sense of what was happening.
As I looked out of the classroom window at a perfectly blue sky with the American flag waving gently in the cool breeze, I could not believe that just 1 hour away there was total chaos. My fellow kindergarten teachers and I convened into the hallway as we had all just received a memo explaining that not only had planes been flown into the world trade center but that the pentagon had been hit as well and flight 93 was downed in Pennsylvania.. It was that moment that I knew our country had been seriously wounded and would be changed forever.
One of my colleagues said to me, "Who would do this?" My response was delayed but profound. I replied Osama bin Laden. They all looked at me and asked "Who?" Me being the newshound that I was had explained who he was how he had been responsible for the USS Cole bombing. Our conversation had then turned to our school community. Which of our students had parents that worked in NYC? Many. Which of our students had FDNY or NYPD parents? Many. Oh dear God.
The teachers all took turns going down to the office to watch the horror on TV. Not a word was spoken but there was a lot of silent prayer and many tears. The regular school day schedule was put on hold and our principal allowed us to make phone calls to family and friends.
The first person I called was my husband. He had not heard the news but was shocked nonetheless. I then called my parents. I was assured that my little brother who was golfing in Washington DC at the time was indeed safe. His wife who works for the Department of Justice was in lock down in her building, but safe. They were unsure about my older brother's work schedule as he is a frequent flyer in & out of NYC but we soon learned that he too was safe. All other family members were accounted for so I was able to concentrate on the task ahead.
Governor Pataki had just declared a state of emergency so we needed to implement the emergency dismissal plan. All students were packed up and put into various locations throughout the school; cafeteria, library, gymnasium. Some teachers were assigned to monitor the students, some teachers were assigned to help with the sudden influx of parents who drove to school to pick up their children, some teachers, like myself, were assigned to call parents and tell them what was happening. I was sent to use the phone in the basement of the building which doubled as a fallout shelter. That helped calm me a little bit.
I made countless phone calls to parents and guardians who were unaware of what was happening. For many, I was the person that first broke the news to them. After assuring them their children were safe I had explained that they needed to come pick them up from school. It was a controlled chaotic situation but we managed to get every child home safe.
The teachers were all dismissed as well. As I drove home in fear and uncertainty I listened to the reports on the radio in absolute horror. I remember looking into the cars that were driving alongside me wondering how they were coping and if they were as scared as I was. I approached the Newburgh Beacon Bridge to cross the Hudson river to get to my home. The message board mounted on the bridge usually had traffic alerts for motorists or words and phrases of wisdom to uplift weary commuters. Today, the words were static and strong; God Bless America.
The following day, school was in session as regularly scheduled. Just as I arrived, I heard from colleagues that our PTA president's husband never came home the night before and was still missing. Lt. John Ginley, 37 year old firefighter with Fire Department New York Engine 40, husband, son & father to a 7 year old son, 9 year old daughter and the uncle of one of my 5 year old students, was one of the 343 firefighters that ran into the buildings to save others and never came home.
A memorial service was held for John on October 22, 2001. As I stood among the crowd at John's church I was in awe over the sea of firefighters from all over the country, the American flag draped between two ladder trucks and the bagpipes playing Amazing Grace. Thank God his body was finally recovered in March 2002 which gave his family some closure. It was a difficult year for our school community. Warwick lost a lot of people that day.
Never Forget. Where were You on 9.11.2001 and what were you doing? What were you thinking? How has 9.11.2001 impacted your life?