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As a former educator of Roane County with 30-plus years of experience, I am now six years into my retirement.
I have many memories as a fifth-grade teacher at Midtown Elementary, but Sept. 11, 2001, is the most powerful.
Having just lost our son Josh, 29 years old, to a drug overdose caused me to feel very vulnerable and at a loss.
It was a Tuesday.
I had bus duty starting at 7:45 a.m. As I greeted students exiting buses and cars, I thought, “What a beautiful blue sky day ahead!” (Not a cloud to be seen.)
The real cloud came before 9 a.m. when my friend and colleague, Brian McKinney, came into my classroom.
“My mother just called. A plane hit one of the World Trade Center Towers in New York City. Turn on the TV.”
We thought that it might have been a private plane with engine trouble.
I turned on the TV. I had never been a teacher who withheld news or current events from my students.
Back in the 1970s, there was an almost total solar eclipse in our area. While others pulled their classroom shades, my students had created safe viewing devices to view the moon crossing the sun’s path. They put boxes over their heads with their backs to the sun. A cut-out area at the back of the box had a taped piece of aluminum foil over it, with a tiny pinhole in the foil and a white index card inside the box which they faced.
The pinhole light projected on the card. This created a viewing screen for the eclipse. What an education/awesome experience for my kids.
How ironically and terribly different was 9/11.
This time, my new students could not turn their backs with boxes over their heads against the danger of blindness. We had to face it all with heads, eyes and hearts straight on.
We saw with mesmerizing aweness and terror all the devastation that man could inflict upon himself.
I will never forget those young disbelieving faces, never understanding what was happening.
As each smoke-clouded tower began to pancake down — first the south tower and then the north — we watched the horrified New Yorkers as they ran for their lives from the solid, massive dust cloud in their wake.
With noses and mouths covered, they ran in the choking air.
The police and firefighters stayed behind. The chirping signals could be heard, locating lost individuals. I will never forget that sound as long as I live.
“Ms. Jackson, what happened? Why?”
As a teacher, I’d always say “I don’t know. Why don’t we find out together?” This was a time we’d never find out together.
Although we were far from New York City, my former students and I will always remember where we were when we saw America at its most vulnerable as mighty towers collapsed.
Never, ever forget.