It was the plane. Ten years ago---one plane, one moment; a world changed forever. It was something that I’m sure had happened hundreds of times before, and I had never
noticed. I had no real reason to. It was the plane; flying over our makeshift soccer field squeezed in amongst the church’s softball field lights. But this time, the plane broke an eerie silence. A planned silence as we took a moment to remember the events of the week. It was the first time I could recall really having stopped trying to process information since the moments early in the school day of September 11, 2001….
A plane. A plane? Into the World Trade Center. Really? No way, how can that happen? Wait, you are serious. How can you not miss a building thatsize? As the principal slid out of my 1st period freshman geography class, I went into the connecting room of my fellow history teacher who had just received the same news. We would often visit each other’s classroom,
usually as part of some practical joke. (Perhaps our finest work being our convincing of one class that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was Communist propaganda. But that’s a story for a different day.) But with this news, humor came with a certain uneasiness; not sure of what was really happening. What was an unfortunate incident, surely the mistake of some pilot or mechanic, was soon to be known as a tragic, deliberate attack.
A plane. The news of the second tower being hit came as one class left and another entered. The teaching of geography andhistory for the day soon veered far from any intended lesson plan. As high school and middle school classes scrambled to rooms where televisions were being tuned in, the process of digesting and dissecting the information that was coming across the networks and newswires began. Amidst the murmur of the news anchors searching for information and students filing in to see what was going on, my mind drifted back to that January day fifteen years earlier when we were returning from 6th grade math. It was strange not to have our teacher in the room when we got back; stranger still when she returned with her husband, carrying a television. We watched for the remainder of the day devastated by what had happened to those seven astronauts aboard the Challenger. There seems to be an event each generation that tends to shape how we view our place in this enormous universe. Pearl Harbor. JFK. Natural Disasters. Challenger. It was clear that this was just such an event, but not one just for a generation, but for an entire society---and the entire free world. As new information, both factual and theoretical, poured in, so did the questions from the students. The questions came rapidly, changing from “How could this happen to them?” to “Why is this now happening to us?” Then as anxious, excited conversation continued, they fell. The two massive towers just fell. The focal point of our best known city, falling as though part of some Hollywood special effects.
A plane. As the day wore on, classes began to diminish in size. Many parents, sharing the uncertainty of the entire citizenry, deciding it was best to keep their loved ones as close as possible. For those that remained, the earlier news of a third plane colliding with the Pentagon should have raised more commotion, but it did not. Perhaps we were already
numb to the sheer number of lives thought to be lost. Perhaps we had already resigned ourselves to the fact that this was an attack on America. Not just buildings, but on our very culture and livelihoods. It was, in fact, a great personal irony. Here in our beloved nation’s worst moments came some of my best moments as a teacher. While for five years I had given information to students about a variety of subjects, I’m not sure I had really taught until that moment. As students, both apprehensive and inquisitive, came in and out of the room they started to delve into the massive number of reports that were forthcoming. What is the connection between the United States and Middle East? Why would they attack? Why is there so much violence in that part of the world? Students engaged with the issues of the day, searching for more and more knowledge. History at work from the Biblical stories of Isaac and Ishmael to the personal remembrances of the Persian Gulf War, just ten short years ago. “Yup, I remember when it started. I was shoveling sand out of the school auditorium. I remember when….” Students were searching for something---anything---that might offer some sense of reason, some answer to the simple, but unanswerable,
A plane. A plane of heroes. Heroes, that in their deaths saved the country from even further debilitation. Heroes that demonstrated that an attack on who we are, was an attack on
the spirit of the American people---a spirit that would only respond with even greater resolve. Heroes who exemplified what President George W. Bush just days later said about the country as a whole, “We will not tire. We will not falter. And we will not fail.” Heroes that we cannot name today; names that we would deem as insignificant if a simple list was placed in front of us, very unlike the celebrity culture with which we are so infatuated. Heroes that called friends and family somewhere over western Pennsylvania, bidding them farewell, while vowing to make a difference in the dwindling minutes that they had remaining on earth.
On Monday, September 10th I sat at Slugger Field in downtown Louisville cheering on a baseball team hoping to win a league championship, pouring my heart into something I really
had no part in achieving. Twenty-four hours later, I sat drained from analyzing the events of the day and continued to watch over and over again the footage that is now so engrained in our memories. The emotions were varied. I was still stunned that this could actually happen. I selfishly was angry that it was going to cause such a disruption in my life, games missed, days “wasted”, generally inconvenienced. I was strengthened by the faith of the President and so many more of God’s people. I was encouraged that there was still hope for our nation, whether it was those working among the rubble in New York, the fallen heroes of Flight 93, or even the students of our school inwardly pledging that they would not stand
by to see this happen in their community, their nation, their world. We already knew that because of these event the world would be a different place, but they would make it a better place.
It’s funny really. I never wanted to be a pilot or an astronaut or had any real interest in flying. In fact, I had really only flown two or three times in my life up to that point. Sure it was “cool” to look at a fighter jet or a space capsule, and a flyover at a sporting event was always impressive. But then, for a short while, they were all gone;
the planes, the games, the buildings, the security---all of it, gone. Gradually, things progressed back towards normal. The President encouraged us to keep living as Americans---as free men. And so life went on…radio stations returned to their music, theaters started running their films, and ESPN returned to covering sporting events rather than news stories. And even in our own little speck of the planet, we resumed our lives, albeit with a little different perspective. As we set to return to the soccer field, to play the game against our heated rival that had been cancelled just days earlier, a casualty of the violation of American life, it was more than appropriate to offer up a prayer for those that lost their lives on that
fateful day. And as we stood there side by side, a demonstration of the unity that was prevailing upon our nation, we observed that moment of silence----a moment of reflection that has now lasted a decade. And the silence was broken by a simple, single sound--- something we had not heard for several days.
It was the plane.