As we acknowledge a day 17 years ago that no one who was old enough will every forget, I want to share my memories of 9-11-01.
I remember being struck by how beautiful the weather was. A bright, sunny morning. I was teaching an English class that met in the school's TV studio as I taught media classes as well. There was a TV in the room, but it wasn't on.
There was a knock on the door. A teacher asked me to come into the hall out of earshot of my students. He whispered words I will never forget.
"A plane hit one of the Twin Towers. Do you have a TV on?"
I said no because I was teaching an English lesson. He suggested I put it on as it was a historic moment. I knew he meant that there had been an accident which is what most of us thought it to be... for a while.
One of the things I always try to teach my students is to be consumers of information and to immerse themselves in news. So I turned on the TV. All the news stations were reporting the incident, mainly discussing how a plane could have gone so far off track.
My students and I watched as the fire consumed the top floors of the North Tower. One of them asked me how it's possible to put out a fire so high up. I remembered a conversation I once had with my uncle and two cousins who at the time were firefighters in Westchester County, NY where we all lived, about this and they said that beyond a certain height there would be no water pressure. I explained that to my students, but assured them that somehow the fire department would find a way to handle it.
At that moment, the second plane hit the South tower. I, like the rest of the world, collectively held our breaths and realized the unbelievable truth. This is was no accident.
My teacher instincts kicked in and I shut off the TV, telling my students that we needed to get back to work. I was shaking and hoped they didn't notice. I don't remember what I taught or how I was able to pretend nothing was wrong.
Again, there was a knock at the door. I answered it, not really wanting to know what I was sure I would hear. It was the principal of the school. She said as quietly as she could, "Do you have a TV on?"
I answered honestly. I told her no, because there was no TV on at that moment. She said not to turn it on and to say nothing to the students. She then left quickly.
As soon as my class was over, teachers began pouring into the room, desperate for information. At that time, there were no cell phones capable of going on the Internet, so we huddled in front of the TV, watching the updates and simply not believing what we were seeing as the two towers fell, killing not only the people who had been working there, but countless first responders.
We were told to say nothing to the students for the entire day. What I didn't know was why we couldn't tell them and what we should say to help them deal with a situation that was unimaginably frightening for a child.
Of course, little by little, the word got around. Our students sensed something in their teachers' demeanor which were unnaturally solemn. I prayed my students wouldn't want to discuss it. But they needed reassurance and facts, not rumors that were swirling around the building.
At this point, the four planes had hit in NYC, the Pentagon and in the field in Shanksville. All bridges, tunnels, airports, etc. were shut down. Planes were being forced to land anywhere they could immediately or risk being shot down. It was a world that was unrecognizable to both children and adults.
Eventually, one boy asked me a question. He said, "Ms. Luciano, are the terrorists coming for us? Are they going to drop a bomb on our school?"
To this day, remembering the fear in the eyes of my students reduces me to tears. I assured them that we were safe. I hoped they believed me and didn't know I was lying. The truth was that no one knew what was coming.
Had we seen the worst of it or was it just the beginning?
The day continued to drag on as if time had slowed down. Finally, we were told to bring our students to the auditorium. The principal would address all of us.
I have no specific memory of the assembly except that it was then that the teachers realized why we couldn't let the students know too soon about the situation. Many of them had parents or other family members that worked in the buildings in Manhattan or near them. Phone lines were jammed. We simply didn't know who had survived. And we didn't want children going home to an empty house thinking the worst.
So our administrators and other staff members called every single home to make sure someone would be there when their child arrived or was coming to pick them up. If we couldn't reach them, we kept their children at school and tried to allay their fears as best we could.
When I finally got home, my mother's face told me something was very wrong. My mind raced to think of who we might know who could have been in New York City. She said my aunt had called to tell us that my uncle who was a lieutenant in the fire department and his two sons who were both firefighters were sent to help with the rescue efforts. I flashed back to the sight of the towers falling. My first thought was if I would be going to go to one, two or three funerals.
Late that night, we finally heard from my aunt, whose agony while waiting for word from them I can only imagine, that they were all fine. They were sent to stations in the Bronx to replace those firefighters who had been sent down to Ground Zero.
The days that followed were a blur. I look at the pictures now and still find it hard to believe it actually happened. As it turned out, no one from my school lost anyone in the disaster. Not students or staff members. A true miracle.
If you remember it, there are no words. If you don't remember it, there are no words to describe it.
If you want to learn more about that day, revisit it, or share the importance of it with your children, here is an interesting link about things many of us don't know:
And this is a montage of news coverage of the day as it unfolded.
Let us never forget. And let us make sure the next generation understands the horror as well as the heroes that emerged that day... and stays ever vigilant.