Dancing In A Sky Filled With Light
I think one of the biggest shared memories from 10 years ago is how blue the sky was that morning here in the North East. It was perfect, a deep, vibrant, solid blue, a few fluffy clouds, the mid-morning sun warming us quickly. Even now, people will see a sky that is similar, walk out to a morning with that same blue, that same warmth, and feel a quick chill. A 9/11 sky, it’s now called. Sometimes.
Math class did not go well that morning, as my students were restless, and not wanting to take the review quiz. I walked slowly back to my co-teacher’s classroom, one of my best friends. She pulled me aside, said, “something’s going on. The office is all huddled around the radio. Run down to the teachers room and see if you can see what’s happening.” I turned on an old staticky set just after the second plane had hit. I froze, the image of the World Trade Center towers burning from 10 floors or so down, smoke pouring out of the gaping holes, debris falling. I couldn’t decipher the scroll at the bottom of the screen; I managed to make out planes, and the Pentagon, and White House evacuated. I staggered back to our classroom, and pulled Kristian aside. “It’s really bad,” I said. “Planes have crashed into the World Trade Center; they’re both on fire.” Despite my attempt to be quiet, a student heard us talking, and we made the decision to tell them what we saw. At that moment, over the intercom came this announcement: “Staff, please check your email immediately.” An email, explaining in very brief terms that the towers had been attacked, as had the Pentagon, was waiting, along with instructions that under no circumstances were we to tell the students. Whoops.
I remember very little else about that morning. The internet being frozen, so no updates from our desk. The sixth grade had their free periods back to back at the end of the day that Tuesday, and I remember us all crammed into the media room in the library, watching Channel 5, and the endless replay of the towers collapsing. The stricken looks on the anchors’ faces, the constant replaying. The realization that some of that debris I saw were people jumping to their deaths. I remember Steve standing next to me, ashen. I remember crumpling and sitting on the floor sobbing at some point. Later, the announcement came that all after school activities were cancelled, and that staff and students should go immediately home. We were all in the hallways saying good bye to the kids as they left, many of them scared and anxious, rushing to get home. Many others had been dismissed by their parents earlier in the day. Standing in the hall near my classroom, I thought, “how are we supposed to tell them everything will be ok, when we don’t even know if it will be ok? Ever? How do we teach THIS??”
School wasn’t cancelled, nor was our parent night on September 12. Our administration made the wise decision to keep doing what we needed to do. I remember breaking in to tears during my ride to and from work, more than once, remember trying not to cry in front of the kids, lots of hushed conversations and futile attempts to hide front pages of newspapers they likely saw at home anyway. Trying to live normally when everything felt like some insane horror film. One day at a time.
A year later, hearing “The Rising” album, and knowing it was Bruce’s answer to this tragedy, and that morning came flooding back in flashes and snippets, but what I hold on to from that day is the blue. He sings about images of life throughout this song, and much like those images, I hold that blue sky in my memory as my symbol of hope, that dream of life. A universe that can produce that much beauty and horror in one moment, and leave me with the beauty as its lasting impression will rise above the evil. Because we will make it so.
Come on up for the rising, come on up, lay your hands in mine. Come on up for the rising, come on up for the rising tonight.
The Rising - Bruce Springsteen