Monday, September 10, 2007

September 11th, 2001

September, 11, 2001 changed America forever. It affected thousands of lives in ways many of us didn‘t initially anticipate. Allow me to explain. I had two students who lost their Dad in the Twin Towers that fateful day. I never met the man, but met his children about four months after the loss of their father. More than five years later I still can’t get the image out of my mind of my two students. Here’s a little bit of the background story: dad went to work nice and early that Tuesday morning, got on the train in Central New Jersey, and headed to the World Trade Center for a special early morning business event.
I like to think he kissed his wife and kids goodbye, picked up his valise, and headed out the door. Maybe he asked her to make something special for dinner, or he may have told her he would try to get home early that night. I’m sure he left with hope and a little bounce in his step on that bright Tuesday morning.
He was headed to a business card exchange at Windows on the World. This was one of the premiere restaurants in NYC, and the place where men and women networked to try to help themselves by helping each other. They weren’t captains of industry, but instead were the “regular guys.” They were men and women working hard to provide food and shelter for their families. I’m sure some were highly paid, among the best and brightest in their field, but most were average Joes. Folks who got on the train in suburbia, and headed into “The City” to earn their daily bread.
Everyone knows what happened next. The planes hit the Tower at 9:11 a.m. and tens of thousands of lives changed forever in that instant.
America itself changed drastically that day. No longer did we feel safe from attack. Everyone should have known that we were vulnerable. Bombs had been set off around the world for years. In 1993, the Trade Center had been attacked, and survived. My friend Jim, a Transit cop who died on 9-11, had been honored previously for his actions back then. The Tower was considered indestructible. America was tough, strong, and safe. 9-11, however, showed that we were indeed vulnerable. Our innocence was lost.
In January 2002 I worked tutoring children. As stated previously, two of my students were children of one of the many victims. The more time I spent with them, the more I realized that they were also the victims, in addition to their dad. The boy was in 8th grade, while his sister was in 5th. But they didn’t look like typical middle school age kids. It was something about their eyes. Their brown eyes looked perpetually sad. I never recall seeing the normal joy and playfulness in the demeanor of the boy. This young man was the most morose teenager I ever met. In my over 5 years of tutoring, he was the only child I never could make laugh. He had the eyes of an old man. And, unfortunately, the soul of a beaten down old man.
His sister had the same sad eyes. But after a while, she changed around me. She started to smile more, and even laughed at my incredibly witty jokes. They were witty to a 5th grader, anyway. By the time my birthday came around, she gave me a very beautiful hand made card. It took everything I had not to cry when she gave it to me. The best part is she made the card a funny one. Was my sense of humor helping her a little bit to heal? I’ll never know, but I certainly hope it did.
I think about my two special students often. The memories of September 11th surround us here in the NY metro area. We have monuments everywhere-- at train stations, parks, and shopping centers. I wonder if they are able to look past these various memorials as so many of us do, or if they serve as reminders to them on a daily basis of the worst day of their lives.
Time heals all wounds, even those that have cut so deeply.