I was at my desk, doing those last-minute things a teacher does as her students enter the classroom. Annette walked in, slinging her backpack off her back like millions of other high school kids across the globe. I don’t know who spoke first, or if we exchanged greetings, I just remember her pronouncement.
“I heard a plane crashed into the Twin Towers.”
I remember being surprised she knew what the Twin Towers were, though I’m not sure why it surprised me. I said, “Oh, that’s sad. What a terrible accident.” And I kept on with my mundane tasks, preparing for the day.
Right behind her walked another student – I don’t remember who – and they, picking up on Annette’s words, said, “I heard it was two planes.”
Something in my heart lurched. “Two?” I thought. “Surely that can’t be right. Exageration. Confusion. Two?” And even though I knew nothing more about it than the two simple sentences exchanged as morning gossip, something dark in my heart leapt to life and I thought, “One plane is an accident. Two planes is deliberate.”
“But how can that be?” I wondered as I fumbled for my radio. “I drove here not 30 minutes ago, listening to the news and nothing was happening. What’s the truth behind this?” I didn’t know. I didn’t understand.
The bell to begin First Hour rang as I fiddled with the radio’s knobs, striving to get MPR, ABC, something to come in loud and clear. I got garble; I got fear.
I strode to the front of the classroom, finally giving up on the static, and stood before the small crowd of senior English students. I don’t know what I said, but it was nothing profound. We knew nothing yet, had no definite stories; only fuzz, only disjointed whispers and half-heard anchormen, themselves puzzling together the pieces. They didn’t know. They didn’t understand.
The noise in the hallway, louder and later than usual, settled down as I began our morning devotions. The phone rang in the office, the sound of it reaching up to the balcony above where it floated through my open door. I began to teach because what else was I to do? I didn’t know. I didn’t understand. How could we? The story was still unfolding.
Our principal stood suddenly in the door, the telephone in her hand. She held it out, walking towards me. I took it, thinking wildly, “What is so important that she’s interrupting class? And is she going to stay with my students while I talk and must I really take this call NOW?”
“It’s your husband,” she said.
I looked at her in alarm. Colin was in Los Vegas, on a business trip. Why was he calling? Something – something beyond my control – was happening and I didn’t like the feel of my erratic heart. Or was it the baby lurching in my womb? I didn’t know. I didn’t understand.
Right there, in front of the class, I took the phone.
“I’m okay…,” his voice reached me, small and far away. He was hard to hear. Or was it that I was hard of understanding? “…but we can’t fly home. All the planes are grounded. We’re trying to rent a van to take everyone back. I’ll be in touch when I know more.”
Around me the students were filing past, following the principal to a different classroom; a room with a television, where everyone could sit together and experience whatever this was which was happening. I could hear the TV’s sounds, floating down the hallway, though I could not make out the words. I could barely make out my own thoughts.
“What do you mean all planes are grounded?” I asked, gripping the podium as dizziness gripped my head. The baby felt so heavy, like an impossible weight in the pit of my stomach, like a stone dragging me down as the room spun and I leaned for all I was worth on that wooden pedestal, my mouth dry as dust, all the questions of the world spinning through my head. I didn’t know. I didn’t understand.
“All the planes in the country – in Canada, too, I think – are grounded because of what happened.”
“BUT WHAT HAPPENED?”
“I’ve got to go, Hun,” Colin’s voice said. “I wanted you to know we’re okay and not to worry. I’ll call you when I can. I’m safe. Don’t worry. I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
I pressed the button to turn off the phone. The room around me shifted; or was it the world? I straightened up and followed the sound of the TV down the hall and into a room full of frightened faces, to a room full of answers; full of questions.
I watched as, within minutes, the second tower fell.
And then I knew. Then I understood, even if through a glass darkly. This is not the same world I woke up in.
“The king is dead. Long live the king.”
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27
QUESTION: Where were you? What were you doing? How did your world shift that day?