Tag Archives: 9 11

Where Were You?

11 Sep

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.”


“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?

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