Eight years ago today I was a brand-new certified teacher. A full year internship had only gone so far in preparing me for the overwhelming reality of being on my own, The Teacher, the one who had to plan and teach and do everything On Her Own.
Two weeks into the school year, 9-11-2001 took place. I was in class, a tenth grade American Literature class, and someone (I forget now which teacher) ran in and told me to put on the news. What we saw...my mind struggled to comprehend it. A plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers. There were flames. There was chaos. The newscasters were debating what had happened, whether this was accidental or an actual attack.
A short while later the truth became apparent, as a second plane flew into the other tower. This could not be coincidence.
It took some time before the Towers began to collapse. We watched as the tiny specks of bodies flung themselves from ledges, apparently preferring that death to the one they faced inside. I don't want to know what brings a person to make that choice. We heard that thousands were still inside, trapped by the fires. We heard that policemen and firemen who had gone inside to rescue those they could were also caught.
And the Towers came down, among a great billowing eruption of flame and dust and screams, and all the proud security of the Greatest Nation on Earth tumbled down with them.
I remember the aftermath, as the evildoers became known, this faceless force of hatred that had flung its hand across seas and borders to strike at the heart of their Great Satan. I remember the Chaldean students, suddenly spotlighted by dint of dusky skin and Midde-Eastern descent, avoiding eye contact, sitting silently in corners. The crosses many of them wore around their necks suddenly appeared from beneath their shirts, shouting in wordless desperation that I am not one of Them! I am not your Enemy!
I remember trying to use the novels I was teaching at the time to raise discussions about appropriate reaction to Arab-Americans. My honors students were reading The Crucible: we discussed the Red Scare and its poison. My regular students were reading The Picture Bride: we discussed the shameful history of Japanese-American internment camps.
I remember the girl who asked, in all seriousness, But wouldn't it be safer if we did round up all the Middle Eastern people here and put them in camps?
I remember the stories of irrational fear, bigotry, hatred. The two Somalian men who were forceably ejected from an airplane when another passenger hysterically accused them of being terrorists--because they had dark skin and were speaking a different language. The Middle Eastern store owner who was beaten to death by youths from the neighborhood. The hate-filled graffitti sprayed over stores and houses owned by anyone who looked like they might be One Of Them.
I remember my parents telling us of the stream of Muslim visitors to their house in the Ivory Coast, all coming to convey their deep grief over this American tragedy and their revulsion at the blasphemy of committing such a crime in the name of Allah.
And so do others.
I'm giving out my first "Top Marks" Award today, to Monica of And I'll Raise You 5. Her 9-11 post "Together" was so poignantly and beautifully written that it is deserving of Top Marks indeed. Go read it. You'll be glad you did.
3 years ago