The sky was a startling blue, the air crisp. It was the fourth day of the new school year and I remember thinking that it would be a great day to be outdoors. But a rare and beautiful day created an exciting atmosphere and I looked forward to getting to know my five new classes of high school students.
Never did I have a thought on that idyllic day that evil would rear its gruesome head. Evil doesn’t care about fabulous weather; evil doesn’t have empathy; evil doesn’t have a conscience. On that glorious day, September 11, 2001, evil unleashed a barrage of attacks on the citizens of our country. Each year we are told never to forget. How could I?
During my lifetime I’ve experienced many historical events. I received the polio vaccine on a sugar cube in kindergarten. I witnessed numerous lift offs and splashdowns of space flights. I watched reports of the kill counts during the Vietnam War. There were assassinations: JFK, MLK, RFK, Anwar Sadat, John Lennon. The Challenger exploded. We endured the launch of the AIDS epidemic, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Gulf War. I’ve never forgotten those things. How could I?
September 11, 2001, was fast becoming a surreal day in my mundane existence. After monitoring the television throughout second period, classes changed and another teacher occupied the classroom for the next period. I wandered up and down the main hallway looking for a classroom with a tv on. I found one. The teacher was glued to the events unfolding, most of the students were chatting amongst themselves. I was struck how they did not display the agitation or sense of urgency the teacher and I possessed. These events were unprecedented. The attacks in NYC felt personal. NYC is 150 miles to the south of where I live. Later in the day I learned one of the planes turned over our city to follow the Hudson River south to NYC. I’ve never forgotten. How could I?
It was hard to know what to do. There is no protocol in place for what to do in the classroom when terrorists attack the country. We watched more than our fair share of news coverage. I let students talk about what was going on and ask questions. I didn’t stop to really think about the day’s events until the students were dismissed. After-school activities were cancelled, sports events postponed. It seemed best for everyone to be able to go home to be with loved ones. I needed some time to process what had happened. I can’t forget. How could I?
At home, I continued to watch the news coverage. A photo appeared on the screen. Five burly men struggled to carry an individual in a chair. They were dusty, dirty, and sweaty, but they bore their burden with reverence. He would later be named as the first victim of 9/11 and I had known him briefly many years previous. It was Father Mychal Judge, a Franciscan priest and the NYFD chaplain. I had known him casually during his few years at Siena College in the late 1970s. Father Mychal spoke to everyone he encountered. He would stop us on a walkway outdoors and speak with us. He cared about all of us. I know why his firefighters loved him. I know he loved all of them. His loss affected me deeply. I’d been experiencing a distant type of grief all day long. Seeing Father Mychal in that picture, looking like Jesus in the Pieta, pushed me over an emotional edge. My tears began and would run off and on all that evening. People had lost spouses, children, parents, grandparents, significant others, and all manner of loved ones. I cannot fathom how they were feeling. Out of respect to the victims, I will never forget. How could I?