Friday, September 11, 2015

{7 QT 19} - I was in English Class

I'm doing my quick takes this week on the day that we were getting news about the 9/11 attacks, here in Baton Rouge. Just - disclosure - in case you'd rather not read on.

I realize that Louisiana is pretty far removed from New York City, but you never do quite forget exactly where you were and what you were doing when you first find out about truly, truly significant cultural events.

Fourteen years ago, I was in English class - I was a junior, and the guidance counselor was coming door-to-door to all of the classrooms and having a private word with the teachers in the hall. We all looked around at one another, over our laptop screens (the school was an early adopter for technology in the classroom), and the speculations began.

Did something happen to one of our classmates?

Did something happen at one of the local refineries?

When our teacher returned, she made the simple announcement that derailed class for the rest of the day. I remember that she didn't try to soften it any - even on the outside chance that someone in the room had a relative that worked in the World Trade Center. She looked so shocked that I don't think she could have if she tried. She just told us, "I don't know if this affects anyone in here, but a plane has just crashed into the World Trade Center in New York."

For the rest of the day, none of the teachers bothered to try having class. Mostly they were concerned with keeping all of us calm.

I did hear about one teacher's insensitive (and futile) attempt to have class with a "real" lesson. It didn't go well.

I spent the day hot with worries because - at the time - each of my parents worked at one of the Exxon Mobil refineries in the area. I knew that those refineries were listed at like #3 on some FBI/CIA list of tactical targets in the continental US, and I was really worried.

The big deal was that because of what was going on in NYC, Exxon decided to shut down their external phones, but I didn't know that. I was calling my mom's phone, but I couldn't get through. I want to say it was going straight to voicemail.

(Having spent a little time in insurance, I'm thinking that shutting down the external phones was probably part of Exxon's crisis management plan. Regardless of whether Exxon was involved, Exxon realized that media were going to descend on them with questions, and they wanted to make sure they weren't talking to "just anybody." This was actually a very responsible decision that would help prevent inciting panic.)

Even on days like 9/11, there was a best (or at least most meaningful) part of the day:

It came during Chemistry. We were supposed to have a test that day, and Sister Ursula (a little old nun who sometimes threatened to throw people out of the window), took a seat on her stool and shared with us her experience of first getting the news about Pearl Harbor, in December of 1941. She'd been a high school student then.

I think it was the fact that she actually had a very personal, very relevant story to share that really made me feel more at ease. Well... maybe not at ease, exactly, but like even if everything wasn't okay, it would be.

No other teacher - only Sister Ursula - managed to get us to do something productive that day besides review. We actually took part of the test that day.

She said to us, "I know you're all really distracted and scared about what's going on, but do you think we can do just the multiple choice part of the test today?"

And we all looked around at one another and a few at a time, people nodded their heads.

It didn't take the whole period, but we did take the multiple choice part of the test that day, and after that she took questions that people wanted review on for the rest of the test (which she, naturally, didn't show us).

That one hour was like detoxing. She was like an oasis of calm in a midst of chaotic desert.

I think that it was at about that time of day that the guidance counselor, who knows our family, came to find me - Mom had gotten my message and managed to get a turn on the ONE line that was available on the line out to call her to say that nothing was going on at the plant and for me to stop worrying about them.

It's amazing what you still remember about those cultural turning points of our time.

For those who are old enough, I don't think there's any forgetting where you were or what you were doing when you first learned of the attack on Pearl Harbor, or that Elvis died, or - for my generation - 9/11.

It's important that we remember these events - they are part of what makes us who we are, as a nation. And while I know that a lot of images from that day have been scrubbed from the media - to the point of having become difficult to find - it's important that we don't forget.

What about you? Do you have a story to share from September 11, 2001?

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  1. I was the mom of a third grade student who was having trouble in school. I had a meeting at school that morning and when I walked into the office, they said a plane hit the WTC. My thoughts? How tragic, what a horrible accident" Is Mr. B in, we have a meeting. Mr. B was far more upset about it than I was and took a call from his s.o. during our meeting. I left school and headed to work and by the time I got to work I knew the second plane had hit the WTC and that it wasn't an accident. I checked the news on the internet; public schools were staying open that day, but no aftercare; there would be no school the next day to give a weekend "cooling off" period as we had a noteable number of Muslims in the system. Our office gave us the choice to leave early but I didn't figure there was a reason to go and I knew I'd have to be out the next day.

  2. Thanks for sharing.

    Even though I didn't have any personal connection with the WTC, or anyone near it the day of, I feel like, in a manner of speaking, I do feel something like a personal connection with the event. I'm not really sure how best to describe it. I don't think that day will fade in any of our memories for a very, very long time.