Tuesday, September 11, 2001

That terrible morning 17 years ago has been on my mind all day today. It was a Tuesday, sunny, warm and with a pleasant breeze that hinted at fall, much like today was. I spent the morning at home watching the events unfold and then went to my afternoon teaching job where I taught music at an elementary school. I had no idea what the other teacher and students knew but I was determined to remain calm and proceed with my lesson plans. Earlier that summer I had devised a lesson plan of patriotic music to begin the school year, after learning the previous year that most of our rousing patriotic tunes and American folk songs were rapidly disappearing from kids’ repertoire. So that day I had planned to continue with teaching songs like “You’re a Grand Old Flag” and “America the Beautiful”. How could I bring myself to sing those songs now? That was what I pondered as I drove into the parking lot. How could I keep it together without falling into a blubbering fool in front of the kids?
When the first class of 5th graders entered my room, it was more disturbing than the news I had been hearing all morning. These poor kids were terrified and looking to me for answers. Apparently the principal had systematically gone around and pulled teachers out of the classroom to tell them of the happenings but sternly warned them not to tell the kids. Well, little pitchers do have big ears and those kids heard just enough to be scared out of their wits and let their imaginations take over. “We’re at war! Bombs are dropping all over the country!” they cried and pleaded with me to tell them what was going on. One girl feared for her mother who worked downtown in the big city an hour away and was sure she’d never see her again. I did what I could to reassure them that everything was under control. I spent the next few hours doing the same with every class, except for kindergarten who were young enough to be oblivious to it all. Imagine having to recount these kinds of events to children 5 times over! That was my day. So, while everyone else was glued to their TV’s that evening, we took our kids out to a movie. Spy Kids. We were the only ones in the theater that night and I never regretted missing whatever recap after recap the news media spun across the airwaves. After all, the news still hadn’t gotten all the details right until months later, if they ever really did.
I will always remember that day and the kids who were as much my solace as I hope I was for them. We were more than likely the first, and only, Americans that day to be singing songs of patriotism and freedom while everyone else sat shocked into silence, fear and dread. But in a small town school in Southern Illinois, we sang the songs just as I had planned – songs to keep us strong, to remind us of who we are and where we came from – and we continued to sing them and more in the weeks to come as the nation joined their voices along with us. But I’m proud that my classroom was the first that day to boldly sing of the land of the free and home of the brave.

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