I was in my classroom at Williamsburg Middle School in Arlington VA, two and a half miles from the house in which I write these words. The Principal's secretary came into my room and motioned me over to her.
"Your wife called to tell you Ron is all right."
I expressed puzzlement.
"Your wife called to tell you your brother-in-law Ron is all right."
Ron is an FBI agent, married to one of my wife's younger sisters. At the time he was stationed in New York, near the World Trade Center.
I asked why he wouldn't be.
The secretary explained that a plane had hit one of the twin towers. In retrospect, my wife apparently felt I would already know this had happened, it was just about 9 AM. Ron had called his wife who had called my wife who wanted to assure me.
I clearly demonstrated surprise - and my students started to ask questions. I asked the secretary what if anything we were supposed to tell the children. She shrugged her shoulders.
I simply told the students there had been an incident with a plane and a building in New York City, and someone from our family had called to say he was okay.
The teachers on our team were on our free period, watching the tv, when the first tower came down. By then we were all in shock. And our day had just begun.
By lunch the assistant principals had informed the students what was happening.
Remember, we are in Arlington VA. Once the Pentagon was hit, parents began showing up at our school to get their children - who knew what attack might come next. Teachers would take time to locate the children and escort them to the office.
When we heard about the plane that hit the Pentagon, our 7th grade team had to deal with an immediate crisis: the science teacher had a father who was a pilot for American who was supposed to ride on a flight from Dulles to Los Angeles to pick up a flight. One of our students had a father who flying from Dulles to Los Angeles on business. Neither knew the number of the flight their loved one was taking. They sat crying and hold one another until each learned the love one was safe.
Our school is in North Arlington, more than half a dozen miles from the Pentagon.
Some of our teachers lived in DC, a few in Maryland.
The phone in my room rang in the late afternoon. It was Jay Mathews of the Washington Post seeking comments from teachers about what they had done, how the situation had to be handled. No one had told me we were not authorized to talk to the press. My only words to Jay, a good friend, is that right then we were trying to figure out what we could do for teachers who couldn't get home - so many roads and bridges were closed. Fortunately I was able to get Jay to read my words to my principal, who found nothing wrong in what I had said.
When I got home my wife was in shock. When the Towers came down cell phone service in lower Manhattan had failed, and we had not heard from Ron, and we worried that he had been buried in the collapse. Some time around 3:30 or a bit later he was finally able to get a message through to his wife, who was near panic, and she then informed the rest of us.
My house is 2 blocks from the major hospital in Arlington County, to which some survivors were taken.
My wife had been driving to work late, traveling on Washington boulevard which passes the Pentagon, when she was unable to go further because of what had happened there.
The day was consumed with watching television, with reading emails and list servs.
The next day schools around DC were closed, so there was more.
I began to learn of people I knew who had died, others who had been lucky - including an Army colonel whose office was in the part of the Pentagon that was hit, but who was having a cup of coffee with a friend in a different part of the building.
As I sit in the same house in which I lived 11 years ago, as I reflect on those events now, the feelings come back - not only of that day, but of the weeks immediately afterward
I had grown up near New York City. I lived in the city for a number of years as a young adult. I knew many people who had worked in the Towers. For some time i was afraid to read the lists of those who had died, worried about the names I might find. To my knowledge I knew three of the four from Haverford College who died in the Towers, and knew slightly one person who died in the Pentagon.
This is the first anniversary for which I have not been in a classroom. The tenth graders I was teaching are by and large to have clear memories of that day. Already younger students have no memory of a time before that event, and how profoundly this country was changed.
In my parents generation, they knew exactly where they were when they heard about Pearl Harbor.
For many of my generation the signature day was November 22, 1963, and what we were doing when our nation lost its innocence with the assassination of our young and seemingly vibrant President.
11 years ago this morning, and the events that followed, still represent an open wound for many. My personal loss was not great. The impact on our lives however was.
For days afterward we could at night here clearly hear the combat air patrols flying overhead.
When we would drive past certain buildings, say the Pentagon, we would see half tracks with machine guns and anti-aircraft rockets.
Security on Capitol Hill, where my wife works, became increasingly tighter, with new physical barriers, with restrictions on entrance to buildings, with pop-up barriers on the streets, with an increased visibility of police.
Some have argued that today we should forego politics. I disagree.
We may well have suffered the damage of those attacks because of the views of those who had as a result of the election the previous year, views which led them to ignore and downplay warnings of the threat Al Qaeda represented in their fixation to "get" Saddam Hussein.
2001 was not a major election year, although New Jersey and Virginia elected Governors, and New York City its mayor - in fact, that was a primary day in New York City, and Rudy Giuliani tried to use the tragedy that had occurred to extend his time in office.
Today would have been primary day in New York City, but because of the anniversary the voting has been moved two days to Thursday.
And certainly the events of 11 years ago this morning have been used by many to advocate political positions, to insist on policies to which many of us may have objected.
Certainly we should stop and reflect, as i have done here.
That reflection should inform our political action, especially in the midst of a critical national election season.
I write and post this to remind myself - not only of lose, not only of national shame of some of the things that came about as a result of the events of 11 years ago, but also to motivate me to do what I can to reclaim what this country should be, to ensure we not slide back into the worst of what the administration in power did in response to those events 11 years ago.
I also write and post this to remind myself to mourn the losses, and affirm what is best among people.
Thanks for reading.