i had only been teaching for a month. twenty-one years old and trying my best to portray myself as an experienced mathematics teacher, i had structure, well-choreographed lessons and a bit of a hard edge to attempt to separate my youth from the youth of my high school students. it was early in the day, late morning for a school that starts at seven am, when the school-wide intercom cracked through the walls of each classroom and hallway.
my principal's deep southern drawl, that i later became so familiar with over a seven year period, pierced the air with a single sentence. 'teachers, you may want to turn on your t.v.s to the news." the numbers being scribbled on ever page in my classroom and flowing through my own lips ceased as i obediently walked over to my classroom television to press the on switch. with an air of control for the benefit of my children, i counteracted it with a slight breathlessness inside as i wondered what i would find on the other side of that television screen.
a plane had just crashed into a tower of the world trade center. as soon as the images flickered across the screen, a classroom full of teenagers were pummeling questions at me. what is going on? what is that? what is happening? was there a crash?
i was twenty-one years old and my best intentions to come across as an experienced math teacher left me quaking in the attempt to come across as capable of explaining and staying calm for twenty-five other people when i wasn't sure i could even do so for myself. as i steadily informed all of them about what we were watching together and tried my best to make sense of chaos, the news cameras simultaneously broke all our hearts. another plane hit the twin tower of the first in front of all our glazed eyes.
my students were scared, confused and the questions this time exploded exponentially. i assured each of them that we were all safe, not to worry and i remained calm for their sakes. inside my own head i too was at a loss for what was happening and the truth of our own security. i couldn't let these children see the fear written across my own countenance.
the bells for class changes rang as usual throughout that tuesday in 2001 and each time, i received a new set of wide eyes, troubled looks and all those questions. so many questions. math ceased to exist that day unless you count the times i multiplied my standard sentiments of reassurance. i remember one blond girl with glasses sitting on the floor by my desk in tears because she had family in pennsylvania she was worried about. i rubbed her back and promised her they were all fine. i prayed my promise would be kept.
many of us had an urgency to do something, to help, to make some sort of sense out of a day that felt like endless night. the news agencies encouraged people to donate blood because it would now be in great need in our country. for all the loss that day, that of lives and innocence, giving some of myself was the least i could do. as school finally concluded and the children went home to continue their questioning with their families, i drove to an emergency blood drive at a local bank where i donated my own.
the next few days were riddled with uncertainty and i drudged my way through as best i could. ten years later, i'm embarking on my eleventh year in the classroom, now thirty-one years old. i like to believe that with age comes wisdom. however, i'm not sure if something so devastating is ever able to be handled with perfection and complete grace. i did my best that day ten years ago with their fears and my own. it is hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that an entire decade has passed in a blink when that day still rests on the surface of all my senses.
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." -Martin Luther King Jr.