I teach 9/11 every year; since that day, my life has been so irrevocably changed and I worry…I fret that the younger generations will not understand the significance of that day. Right after 9/11, as the television footage seemed to spin into a cycle of planes hitting buildings, buildings collapsing, people fleeing, and tragedy unfolding, my husband said I was obsessed. At the time, I knew I was supposed to say that I wasn’t. I could see the scripted line flutter across my eyelids.
But my open eyes were glued to the television set that would still show the pictures in negative polarity even when the screen was supposed to be blank. I couldn’t escape from it.
I lost no one on 9/11. No. I take that back. I lost a huge part of myself that day. I lost the innocence of motherhood because I went to the babysitter who was caring for the Boy, brought him home, and laid my six month, two day old baby on the bed and started sobbing. I felt so selfish for bringing him into a world that was fundamentally destroyed. He had committed no wrong, yet terrorists a hemisphere away were planning his demise.
Now, fourteen years later, I still feel the pressure of my knees on the carpet as I knelt on the floor and sobbed and begged God forgiveness for wanting to bring this perfect baby boy into the world that I couldn’t understand anymore. And I still feel like I am clinging to threads of understanding that yield no conclusions because, fourteen years later, I am still grasping for an ability to accept it.
It’s not that I deny the reality.
I think I want to deny the evil.
Today, in my first block, my students watched the National Geographic documentary, Inside the Zero Hour, which is about 9/11 and all the attacks that occurred that day. One man, Louis Lesce, is interviewed about his escape from the North Tower. Lesce had been doing a conference that day, helping people find new jobs; he was trapped just below the impact zone in the North Tower. Frank De Martini, Pablo Ortiz, and two other men (sorry, memory is elusive and the book is in my classroom), managed to break open the jammed stairwell doors and freed Lesce and the other people in the floor before moving onward, helping free others from offices and elevators.
As Lesce descended, he came face-to-face with New York City firefighters who ascended, moving closer to a living inferno. On the documentary, he talked about how the firefighter looked him (Lesce) in the eye before taking the next step. And Lesce said that “he knew exactly where he was going and he didn’t miss a God damn step. And I knew where I was going and I was tripping.”
Fast forward an hour and a half, and I’m in another class and we’re watching the A&E video Flight 93. At the end of the film, the people…the heroes…are literally storming the cockpit, flinging scalding water on to the terrorist who had strapped a “bomb” belt around his waist (the 9/11 Commission suggested that the bomb belt was a prop/was fake).
The terrorist who was flying the plane was deliberately swinging the controls erratically to throw the people off course. And they fell into the seat and against the food-service cart they were using as a battering ram.
But they didn’t miss a step. I don’t care that this is a movie and that we may never truly know about what actually transpired…about whether or not they got into the cockpit.
They didn’t miss a step. That’s what matters.
I constantly challenge my students to live better lives, to choose to rise beyond expectations and to change the world. I try to do this for myself as well. What is the purpose of trying to encourage others to rally together and be incredible forces for change, for good if I am not willing to stand up myself and walk with them?
Too often, I live a life of mediocrity. Whether it’s fatigue, or routine, or choice, I don’t always rise up and do what is right. Maybe it’s because I have hidden under the shadows and within my shell for so long that my tiny world is comfortable.
And, all right….I’ll admit it….I’m scared. I’m scared of putting myself out there and being uncomfortable or making other uncomfortable. I hate making phone calls which could lead to commitments that are hard to fulfill when I’m so much more comfortable nestled in the padding of my recliner. And the idea of doing something new can be rather…intimidating which makes me anxious.
What’s really ironic is that one of my absolute favorite verses in the Bible is I John 4:18 in which John writes that “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” I used to chant this verse to myself to drive away fears…of spiders, of the dark, of the unknown. I still cling to this verse to remind me that I can be more than the combined atoms of my fear….
But, as I look at the reflection of these words and reflect a little more on what I am saying, I also hear that I have missed my “God damn step.” And I’m not Cinderella. My shoes aren’t charming and no one’s going to run after me, holding my glass slipper to shove on my foot and give me justification to enter a new life.
No, I’m holding on to my own shoes, thank you very much.
And it’s time for me to put them on my feet.
The hardest thing is that I feel like I’m standing at the beginning of another part of my life’s journey and I keep on seeing little stones and shadowy depressions where holes await for me to fall into.
I know they are there, and they scare me a little. However, I’m tired of knowing where I’m going and “tripping” on the stairs.