Jennifer Carollo Fischer firstname.lastname@example.org
Author’s note: I originally wrote this at the 20-year anniversary mark but have gone back to reflect upon 9/11, as I do every year, to make sure we are still telling our stories of this day in history.
Time stood at 8:46 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001 and I can still remember every moment that followed. The sky was clear and blue that morning and it was the first year of my teaching career, my fifth day to be exact. I was just out of college, still living with my parents right outside New York City and was as bright eyed and optimistic as they came. I was ready to make a difference and to change the world, one child at a time. I had spent years preparing for this time; proud and overjoyed to finally be a teacher in a suburban central New Jersey town.
On the morning of the attacks, all was calm at my school. Ironic and eerie to this day, my class was in the cafeteria, where the local fire department was visiting, to talk about safety. Only ten minutes into the assembly my mentor teacher whispered in my ear that something was terribly wrong. I do not think anything she said truly registered until I took my prep the following period and headed to the break room. It was there that I found other teachers crying as they huddled around the small television set. Cellular phones, which were more basic at that time and without internet capacity, were not working from an overload of usage. I scrambled to call my own family, as my students’ parents began to arrive at the school, located only 45 minutes from lower Manhattan. I remember a blur of confusion, fear, and sadness. So many members of the community where I worked and lived had ties to NYC. Parents of my students were employed there and some of my friends were living there, too. My younger sister, who was in fashion school at the time, was there that day attending class and was luckily unharmed.
I remember my principal calling an emergency meeting, sending coverage to classrooms to remind us to keep the day “normal” as they gathered more information as to what was transpiring. It was my job as a young teacher to protect my students and to shield them from the horrors that were unfolding less than an hour away. I had students called down to the office to go home. I spent my lunch break in front of the television, while my cognizance of what had happened, and the magnitude of death and destruction was still unclear. Yet all the while, I kept a brave, smiling face. I was practically a child myself, responsible for the children in my class who had no idea what was going on beyond our classroom doors. The day was chaotic and tense and at 3 p.m. I realized that I could not even get home, as all bridges and major roadways were closed. There was a thick and heavy darkness in the air as smoke and residue had begun to move across the water and into the surrounding towns. It lingered there for weeks.
In the days and weeks that followed, there were parents who did not send their children to school out of fear, while others sent them for the purpose of distraction. Community members were missing and remained unaccounted for. My students had so many questions and while I wanted so badly to scoop them all up and to tell them it was a bad dream, I simply could not. They had such wonder in their eyes and I will never forget how strongly I wanted to keep them in a bubble of safety. It was a strange way to start my career. I felt an overwhelming responsibility to care for my students, while the world stood still all around us.
We rallied together for the months that followed. I was so proud of my school and the community that gathered to help, in even the smallest ways. We collected food, supplies and money and gave our support to those who needed it. Kindness was ubiquitous as we gave to strangers without a second thought and offered grace to one other. It was an unusual time to spark unity, but it had.
I remember every student from my class that year. They played an impactful part in my story and I hopefully did the same in theirs. Learning was an act of community and we found small victories in being and working together amid our collective grief and uncertainty.
It has been 22 years since that time. 9/11 was pivotal in making me a leader and a nurturer. It taught me, and so many others, about strength in times of adversity and fear. It kept me focused on my students, and our future- and continued for every year that followed. We saw history unfold before our eyes on that day and while children today have no physical memory of it, those events shaped the world we live in. Sept. 11 has since been named, “Patriot Day.” It is a day to remember all those who were so senselessly lost. Flags are set to half-staff and people take a moment of silence, twice, to honor the heroes and victims of a day that will never be forgotten.
Today, there are valuable lessons that can be taught from the abundance of resources available. At any age level, Sept. 11 can be a catalyst for conversation, growth, and emotion. We need communities to commemorate the heroes who made sacrifices defending our nation’s freedom with every year that passes. I want my own children to one day understand those moments in time and I will help them as I continue to reflect each year. I hope others can also find comfort and strength in doing the same.
“We all have a duty to devote at least a small portion of our daily lives to ensuring that neither America nor the World ever forgets Sept. 11.”- Sen. B. Frist.