Listening to the radio in the morning twenty years ago was disturbing. I had my alarm set to wake me to my favorite radio station. I was used to waking to the sound of my favorite AOR morning crew, with music that tended to suit my mood and my mind. Every so often, I would be dropped into a news or traffic report, but those were a mere pause in the important thing: tunes to start my day.
This is not what I heard twenty years ago. The sound of the voices were distinct but confused. The regular news guy was trying to pull together reports from their sister station down the hall. The news station. They were trying to put together the facts about a plane flying into the World Trade Center. There was a lot more speculation than facts at that point. When accounts of a second plane hitting the South Tower, it became muddled. Even eyewitness accounts were hard to unravel. What people on the ground were watching in New York City was difficult if not impossible to comprehend.
America was under attack. Across the continent from us. My mind leapt to the friends I had in Manhattan. Then they turned to the matter of my own day. How soon before planes began to rain down from the heavens in my own neighborhood? What could I do to prepare my family for what was starting to feel like the end of the world? Without any outside direction, my wife and I chose to go about our day. I would head out to my school. She would take our son to his nursery school and we would all wait for news that would tell us if we were in danger.
Somewhere in there, the North Tower collapsed. Then the South. The Pentagon was hit. Was it a missile or a plane? At school, we didn't have televisions on to show us the carnage and destruction. I used my nascent Internet connection to try and piece together what was going on. Each teacher who showed up had a different account or update. My wife was met by a sign at my son's school: "Let's leave the outside world outside." Which was how we all got through the day at my school. There was recess. And lunch. There was probably some reading and math taught. But mostly we tensed for the bad news alerts that were pouring in.
And we wondered when the high rises in San Francisco would be hit. How long before they blew up something in Los Angeles?
And who were they?
Twenty years ago, we had no idea. We wandered around in a daze, hoping for a clue. Shielding my son from the reality of the outside world did not last long. Like his parents, his eyes were transfixed on our new favorite show: New York. For weeks afterward, there were images burned into our memories. The impact of a commercial airliner accelerating into a skyscraper. Then another. Watching as those buildings collapsed on themselves and the debris fields they created. The hole in the Pentagon. United Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania.
I felt that day that my job as a parent became more difficult. I was going to try and explain to my four year old son how this could happen. My job as a teacher became more difficult. I was going to try and explain to elementary schoolers how our world had changed on that morning. Forever.
I am still trying to figure that out.