Monday, September 12, 2011

September 11, 2001

This date, and all the events that occurred in the days following have forever been etched into my soul.

West Point is a dream assignment.  I didn't really know that before we got there, but quickly realized how wonderful that place is.  It is nestled into the mountains, overlooks the Hudson River, and I don't think there is a season that you simply can't find beauty there.  It is a hard assignment, but very rewarding.

 You are able to mentor the army's future.  That is truly one of the biggest blessings we received with that assignment.  The cadets we sponsored, worked with, and participated in Bible studies with, all became a huge part of our family.  Many of them we are still in contact with today.  We are watching them become outstanding leaders of our country, amazing parents, wonderful spouses, and great citizens of our nation.

We were blessed to be living with neighbors who enjoyed block parties.  They understood our passion for the Razorbacks and thus tolerated some late night games that were televised.  They prayed for us when trying times crossed our path, and rejoiced with us when we had cause to celebrate.

The Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) office had wonderful opportunities for families to experience NYC.  West Point is about an hour outside of the city.  You could cross the river and catch a train that would take you right into Grand Central Station.  We would do that on occasion and go see musicals on Broadway. For Thanksgiving, the MWR hosted buses that would drop you off right downtown by Times Square so that you could watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, and then pick you up and drive you right back home.  They would repeat this during the Christmas shopping season, and I must say, the window displays during Christmas are just phenomenal.

Yes, West Point was a wonderful place to be.

MWR also had a private small lake with two cabins.  Each year you would put your name in for a lottery drawing.   When your name was called you got to choose a date to rent a cabin, or both, on the lake.  It was such a fabulous get away.  By the time our name was called in 2001, the only weekend left was the weekend of  September 8-11.  We happily signed up for both cabins for the weekend.  The 11th was a Monday, but we just packed the school gear so that we could drop the kids off at school.  They so didn't want to leave the cabin and head to school.  They wanted to stay for the entire day.  The weekend was fabulous, but it was time to get back to reality.

September 11, 2001.....

I packed the kiddos up in the van, dropped them off at school and headed to the youth center to sign them up for fall soccer.  No one was at the front desk.  I heard a voice call from the back of the offices telling me to come back.  When I walked into the room, about ten center staff members were all huddled around the TV.   I glanced over and saw one of the towers on fire.  My mind raced as to try and figure out which movie they were watching.  Then I saw the word 'LIVE' on the screen.  I stepped in closer just in time to see the second plane crash into the tower.  My knees buckled beneath me and I collapsed into the chair behind me.  I  remember that breathing was difficult, almost as if the air was suffocating the life out of us.  I didn't know the people who worked at the center, but we all instinctively huddled together and just stood in silence.

I worked part time in the schools my four children attended.  When I arrived at work, teachers, secretaries, and any other adult who had been at the school since early morning were stopping me and begging for more information.  I could see the fear in their eyes.  Many of them lived closer to the city, and many of them had loved ones that worked in or near the WTC.  My job that day quickly became one of sitting in for a teacher so that they could make phone calls.  The expressions on the many faces of the adults are indescribable... there are simply no words.  More often than not, the teacher would return to the classroom with  nothing.  They could not reach anyone who could give them any information.  The solemnity of the day made it seem like an out of body experience.  I was very present, and moved from task to task, but it was as if I was also there in another form watching everything, as if I was in the middle of a nightmare and simply could not wake myself up.

Parents were filing into the school picking up their children.  All of them had sheer panic written all over their faces.  Teachers whispered in the hallways, fighting back tears.  We were told not to share with the students that anything happened as not to scare them.  The students knew.  They weren't sure what was going on, but they knew something awful had happened.

The school day ended, and I went home to soak in the reality of the morning's events.  Every station was broadcasting from various viewpoints.  The local stations were the ones that I tended to stick with.  Those stations were broadcasting very personal view points of the day.  They showed the exodus of people walking across the bridges, simply trying to get away from the city, just trying to get home.  They revealed the many local first responders sending more and more into the chaos that so many people were running from.  They interviewed the family members of those who raced off to help.  The anchors were continuously getting choked up.  They knew many of those involved first hand.  That was their stomping ground, their city, their people.  Again, there are no words to describe what unfolded on the local stations as they broadcast the events.

These visuals and stories always come to mind at this time of year.  Many heroes emerged as the day and those that followed passed.  Living so close to the city though, I have two memories of that time that still send chills throughout my body.

Let me take you back to the school on post where I worked.  The days that followed 9/11 were interesting to say the least.  September 12, 2001: Many teachers couldn't even make it to post to get to work.  Classes were combined, and lessons halted.  The routine was definitely skewed.  The kiddos in that school were real troopers though.  They adapted and moved along with the many changes without complaining or causing trouble.  I was amazed at their inner strength.  The military community knew that this attack meant that the life of the soldier was changing.  Military kids were no different.  Their carefree life had changed dramatically as we suddenly had troops patrolling the post with machine guns, and yet, they adapted and continued about their happy lives.  It wasn't until about two weeks after 9/11 that I realized just how much that day affected even the youngest of our nation.

All air traffic into NYC had been diverted to a smaller airport in Poughkeepsie, NY.  That was just on the other side of the mountain from West Point.  One afternoon I was monitoring recess when a large plane was making a landing at Poughkeepsie.  Its flight path took it directly over our cozy little post nestled into that mountainside.  It was so close to the ground you could read the lettering on the plane.  As that plane made its loop and started to descend upon Poughkeepsie, it flew over the playground, it's shadow was large and intimidating as it crossed the blacktop.  I looked up and then heard it: squeals, the squeals of all of the children on the playground~ not squeals of joy, but of pure fear.  I looked back at the children, and they were scampering in all directions, trying to find a safe place.  Most of them ended up huddled together around me and the other teachers on the playground.  It took a moment for my mind to process what was happening.  I too, was shaken.  Planes that large had never flown over so low that you could read the lettering.  It was then I realized those small innocent lives had been just as dramatically affected by the attack as all of us adults.  Many of those children are currently serving in our military.

Now for the unsung heroes~ Most of us have heard or read about the countless brave men and women who rushed to the scene that many were fleeing.  They climbed a multitude of stairs just to get to those who could not help themselves out.  They dug through debris by hand so as to not harm a body.  Those are the faces we envision as the heroes of the day, but let me share with you another set of heroes from that day.

September 12, 2001~ One of the local morning news stations was continuing coverage of the more personal stories from the previous day.  They aired footage of the many cars that were still parked in commuter lots.  They revealed pictures of apartments miles away from the incident that were covered in debris dust.  Yet, the one story that still gets me even today is that of the daycare centers.  This local station interviewed many daycare workers who had stayed the night in the centers with children who were not picked up at the end of the day September 11, 2001.  So many little ones whose parents did not make it home.  These daycare workers stayed, unpaid, until family or the emergency contact, could make it to bring those sweet babies home.  My heart ached for those sweeties, and then filled with love and appreciation for the workers who loved those darlings enough to hold and cradle them until a familiar face could take them home.  Most of those children would be in middle school or high school now.  I think about them every year at this time and wonder what they are up to.  I also wonder if those workers ever received any kind of recognition.  I do know that their crowns in heaven were adorned with many jewels on that day in September ten years ago.

September 11, 2001

We will never forget.  Yet, in honor of those who lost their lives that day or because of that day, let us choose to be a positive force in our world today.  Let us choose to be kind, even to the unkind.  Let us choose to love a stranger in need as so many did on that crazy day.  Let us never forget, not by mourning, but by living in such a way that we celebrate all that day taught us about the great people of our nation.