September 11th, 2001 started like any other day. I woke up on Stadium Avenue in West Lafayette Indiana around 6:30. Hoped in the shower trying to shake out the cobwebs, made breakfast, and made the 20 minute walk to campus for my Spanish 201 class. As I walked the tree lined streets and allys of that side of campus I revealed in the beauty surrounding me.
A beautiful late summer
early autumn morning in Indiana.
A nip to the air,
not a cloud in the
crystal clear blue sky,
the beautiful hues of the sun riseWhat a beautiful start to a day
Espalada de casa about ocho cincuenta (8:50). I can proudly say if I were to get dropped off in the middle of Mexico I could get home. That’s what the stated goal of my Spanish TA back then.
I then hopped into my ’89 Cougar and begin the trip to Dayton Elementary. September 11th is a date that will live on in infamy for two reasons. The first you should all know. The second, is because that was the first day I was ever left alone with a class full of students.
As I turned the radio on I heard
We’re getting reports out of New York that a plane has just flown into a building
I figured it was a tragic accident. Somehow, someone probably flew a Cessna or some other prop plane to close to a building and wound up hitting it. Similar planes flew over my college house morning, noon, and night from the aspiring pilots enrolled in the Purdue School of Aviation. I listened for a few more moments. The story didn’t change. I switched to whatever was in the CD player. No time to mess with the radio. I had to get from Stadium Ave to Dayton Elementary School by 9:30.
I walked into Dayton Elementary proudly at 9:26. I entered with a big poster board tucked under one arm. It was my second visit to the classroom. The week before all I had to do was stand, watch, and help out with the kids. Today I was suppose to present myself to the class. The secretary greeted me. I signed in as a guest and saw the video on the TV in the office behind her.
Oh it was a real plane
What’s that sweetheart?
in New York
it was a real passenger plane.
Oh, there not sure yet hunny.
No, really I just saw it
The TV was mounted behind her in the Principals office without any sound. I could see it through the window that ran alongside the office door. I walked down the hallway to the my room for the hour. For the sake of the story lets call the teacher Mr. Gertsch. I know it was a male teachers classroom. He and his wife were both teachers at the school. I opened the door and tried not to interrupt.
Which is nearly impossible by the wayEntering a classroom undetected that is
Most of the eyes in the room turned to me upon the click of the door opening. Those who weren’t aware just followed the gaze of others. They were 3rd graders mind you. I waved. Mr. G introduced me. I only went there once a week for 12 weeks. Because of the events of that day and Indiana weather I only made it out there 9 times. After he got the class going I approached him. He had no idea what was going on outside those four walls. I told him about the plane. He asked me to watch the class as he went to go use the restroom. A few minutes after Mr. G’s departure the class started to get restless. They were now more interested in me than anyone or anything else.
One thing I knew even then was you can’t let the class get out of hand
I put my poster on the easel……
Thankfully, Mr. G walked back in redirected the kids to continue with their writing lesson. He motioned for me to come talk with him in the hallway. He told me that two planes had flown into The World Trade Center. We talked about how crazy that was. He asked if I were ready to introduce myself. I was. I did.
A few minutes later
I ask permission to use the restroom
I was still a student and only 21
Plus, I had been on the run since 6:509:52
The bathroom down the hall was occupied by a lovely group of even younger kids. I turned and walked to the office to use the faculty restroom. As I approached the office I can see the Pentagon in Washington D.C. on TV with cloud of black smoke coming from it.
We’re under attack
Maybe it was a bomb
We’re under attack
How could this happenStatements and questions coming from the office and TV
I pause and look. On a split screen I see the Twin Towers in flames and the Pentagon billowing smoke. I proceed back to Mr. G’s room. I was suppose to be there until 10:30. I fill him in on the Pentagon. He asks me to watch the class and he goes to the office. The kids were working independently. As the minutes continued to tick away I was lost in a sea of shock and questions of my own. What was happening. As the minutes started to pile up the kids got restless. I knew reading was next on the agenda. I had the kids stop doing what they were doing and read a few picture books to them. As the minutes continued to stretch on I switched to a Q & A.
Do you like Purdue?
How old are you?
Where is your mom?
What is your favorite color?
How tall are you?
Do you like being a teacher?It’s still only about 10:15 am
Mr. G finally comes back and tells me that one of the Twin Towers had collapsed. He thanked me for keeping the kids busy, and apologizes for leaving me for so long. I understood. He along with many others watched live in disbelief in real time as the South Tower collapsed. I said no problem and we talked for a few more minutes. I sat in the back of the room starring out the window wondering what was happening out there, and once again I got lost in the stillness of that beautiful morning. I waved at Mr. G and said goodbye to the kids.
Bye Mr. Tucker!10:27 am
I walk to the office. Fill in the time leaving column while watching for the first time what I think is the tower that fell earlier. The office gasped collectively.
They both fell.
Was anyone in there?
Are you sure it was the other tower?
Was anyone on the street?
They both fell.
I get back to the Cougar to make the drive home. Still not a cloud in the sky. I switch from CD to Antenna. I just listened to the accounts being broadcast over the air. I do remember wondering during the drive back home why the Emergency Broadcast System wasn’t being used. I guess they were watching it on TV as well. For the first time in my life the world seemed to have stopped. I looked into the sky at a stoplight. It was strange not to see a single man made object up there.
All planes have been asked to land
Or be shot down
There are unaccounted for planes.
Are they headed to the White House?
Maybe the Capitol Building?
Reports that another plane has crashed in Pennsylvania
When I got back to the house my 3 roommates and our neighbors were all sitting around the TV. We all stayed like that for at least the next 24 hours. You could not escape it. We watched it all unfold in front of our eyes. We watched the replays of the World Trade Center collapsing. We watched in disbelief as all those people stumbled away from Lower Manhattan covered in dust and debris.
As the hours turned into days we all stumbled our way through our lives. We sat on the edge of our seats each time a “new video” surfaced. Classes resumed. Commerce continued. We became familiar with names, faces, places, and organizations unfamiliar to most of US just a few days before. We watched the pile smolder. We watched in hopes of a miracle. Maybe they would pull someone out alive. Every time the first responders yelled to be quiet we hoped for a miracle. That miracle never came. But what we were watching was the miracle. The strength of the human spirit to help.
Look for the HelpersMr. Rogers
These events changed our world profoundly. For me personally I knew I wanted to make a positive impact on our society. One thing these events didn’t do was destroy America they strengthened it. When we come together it brings out the best in all of US. Personally, I knew that day I would make my impact as a teacher.