Twenty years ago, in room 305 at East Lincoln Middle School, I was teaching. I don't remember the lesson. I remember the knock on the door and Mr. White from the classroom next door signaling for me to step into the hall. He told me a plane had just hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center. I remember thinking what a terrible accident that was and thanked him for letting me know. Then, I went back to imparting fascinating facts, which I cannot remember today, to my sixth-grade students. Soon after, Mr. White was at my door again. This time his face was pale and his eyes held terror. "It wasn't an accident. Another plane just hit the other tower," is all he was able to say. Again, I returned to my students. I wonder if they noticed the distraction and tension in my words. Those innocent children had no idea of the blow that our country had just sustained. Did any of us really absorb it? An announcement from the intercom jolted me instructing us to check our email. The message from our principal was to carry on calmly and not have our televisions on with students in the room. I only hoped the elementary school five miles away was following the same directions. I did not want my baby girl to see the images of planes smashing into buildings, fire, smoke chasing people down streets, and ash raining down as she sat at her little first-grade desk. I wanted nothing more than to go pick her up and protect her from evil and harm. However, I had my own classroom of trusting eyes relying on me to stay focused and carry on. Classrooms began to empty as horrified parents rushed to pick up their children.
For days and weeks, we watched the news footage of the collapsing buildings, the fractured Pentagon, the scorched Pennsylvania field. We watched as search teams dug through the rubble looking and listening for signs of life to rescue. We cheered at the television screen when someone emerged. I remember the faces of the first responders as they tirelessly trudged ahead with the mission of saving lives. I remember skies, once filled with planes, being quiet and still and empty. I remember scouring shelves looking for an American flag, only to discover yet another store was out of stock. The sense of patriotism and unity was like no other. People stood in long lines to donate blood to sustain life in victims. But, we were all victims. Our security was stolen. We were raw and vulnerable and uncertain about what would come next. But, we were Americans. While hurting and grieving losses, we were proud and resilient, and united.
What if we honored the ones whose lives were taken that Tuesday morning twenty years ago, by rekindling that spirit of September 12th? What if we looked out for our neighbors with no regard for the color of their skin, the accent in their voice, their vaccination status, or any number of things we allow to divide us? What if we each try hard every day to live up to what we pledge? What if we really became ONE nation under GOD? What if we stood indivisible? Would there be liberty and justice for all? Don't you think it's worth a try?