Two weeks ago I sat in back-to-school faculty meetings as the new teachers at the school (including me) were introduced to everyone else. One woman mentioned that she graduated from a local high school in 2006. Yes, 2006.
There was a split second of shocked silence, then a collective muffled groan from most of us as we all thought, Is she really young? or Am I really that old? From the table behind me, I heard a whispered, “How is that even possible?” and the response whispered back, “Well, that was five years ago, so…”
Yes, five years ago. And ten years ago, that teacher was me. I had my first classroom five years after graduating from high school. When I heard the news on September 11th, 2001, I was alone in my relatively new fourth grade homeroom while my students were at gym, I think. My mom called me to see if I’d heard the news that a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers. Of course I hadn’t heard because I’d been with the kids at the time. Having just moved from New York two months before that, I’m pretty sure that like the rest of the world, I was desperate for news, scanning my brain for people that I thought might be in danger.
I sat alone, listening to the little radio on my classroom counter until the kids returned. I remember trying to get online during my lunch hour to figure out what was going on. I remember kids getting picked up early as they closed many of the buildings in downtown Detroit. I remember going home, seeing the videos for the first time, and crying.
But what I will never, ever forget is the conversation I had with my nineteen fourth-graders that afternoon. Because kids were leaving early and there was an air of tension and the beginnings of fear, we had a brief, matter-of-fact conversation about what had happened. Some of them had questions, which I mostly answered by saying, “I don’t know, yet.”
Then a boy raised his hand and said, with wide-eyed wounded innocence:
“But… I thought we were the good guys.”
To me, that pretty much summed up what most Americans feel. It is hard for us to grasp that there are people who hate us that much, who would celebrate this tragedy by dancing in the streets. Even ten years later, I think most of us still have that sense of shock and sadness that we did that day. But hopefully, we’re a little wiser now, too.
I wonder if that ten-year-old boy who is now a twenty-year-old man even recalls what he said or my answer: “Some people don’t think so.” I don’t know, but I have a feeling, given what a wonderful, interesting, caring child he was, that he is doing his part to make the world a more peaceful place, and that he at least, is one of the good guys.
Editor’s note: Linking up with Let’s BEE friends Friday this week!