I just couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t express what I was feeling in words. I knew every one of those people who was condemned to die. I didn’t know their faces or their names but I knew them all. They were husbands and wives of families working to make the people they were responsible for safe and comfortable. They were the children of families whose hard work and perseverance made their families proud. They were the grandparents who were almost ready to live out their lives doing something they had dreamed they could do.
They were also the young and tough men and women who decided that their lives would not be equated by the dollar bill. They had decided in their lives that their legacy would represent the best of the human spirit. They were the first to respond to people needing help. They will be last ones we will find.
There are certain days in our lives that define who we are and the path we will take in life. Mine occurred on November 22, 1963. I remember what I was doing and where I was. Hell, I even remember what I was wearing. I look at my students and realize that their day will be one filled with unspeakable horror. Their defining moment will include hate, fear, and disbelief.
My day started like all my other days. I was concerned with things that now have little importance. I was giving a test in one of my chemistry courses when my computer reported that one of the towers had been hit. I felt sorrow that such an accident could occur. But, it was an accident and accidents happen all the time.
I decided to turn on a television that was located on the wall behind my desk at the front of my room. My real day had now started. Another defining moment in my life had begun. A new defining moment for my students was about to be born.
We watched in disbelief. The test no longer existed. The silence in the room was overcome by the crackled sounds coming from my old television located on the wall at the front of my room. One of my students came to my desk and asked if this was real. I told her it was and in her eyes I saw a bit of hate because I didn’t tell her that this was some special affect from an old disaster movie. As she returned to her seat all I could say was, “I’m sorry”.
We then watched as one of the towers burned. We watched brave men and women with unknown faces and names run toward the building in order to help. In order to do the jobs they were trained to do. They wore thick black coats with bright yellow stripes, some with tanks draped across their back. They did not hesitate. They ran toward something they knew that they had never seen before. They ran toward the disaster because they wanted to help.
We continued to stare at my television screen located on the wall at the front of my room when we saw another plane. We watched in horror as we saw it disappear into the other tower and then explode through the other side. I didn’t hear anyone gasp or even breathe. I just heard total silence from my class who was supposed to be taking a chemistry test. The test no longer had any importance. In a few seconds I heard one of my students exclaim, “Independence Day”. He had just spoke what they must have all been thinking. This couldn’t be real. It was never supposed to be real. We were promised that it would never be real.
We watched as two of our nation’s grandest architectural marvels burned and filled the sky with smoke. We watched as few of the men and women who a few minutes earlier had streamed toward the building return. Instead we watched more of our nation’s finest run toward what seemed unreal. They did it because they were trained to do so. They did it because they wanted to.
The commentators bellowed that this was the worse kind of terrorist attack and that it could not be happening in our nation. All of us in my room heard little from the television located on the wall behind my desk in the front of my room. We only saw what was happening. The silence in my room was replaced by short almost silent sighs. I am not sure if it was coming from my students or from me.
The pictures that were coming from my television located on the wall behind my desk at the front of my room now started to show something else. The fiery towers were no longer seen billowing smoke above a city that was never supposed to sleep. The pictures now showed another building in flames. A shorter building that was thought to be more powerful than any other building in the history of life. A building that was now broken and in flames.
Once again my students and I watched brave men and women with unknown faces and names run toward the building in order to help. In order to do the jobs they were trained to do. They wore thick black coats with bright yellow stripes, some with tanks draped across their back. They did not hesitate. They ran toward something they knew they had never seen before. They ran toward the disaster because they wanted to help.
“Are we at war, Mr. Fabiano?” I looked up and stared into the eyes of a large young man who appeared to be both afraid and angry. Before I could answer him I noticed that my entire class was staring at me and waiting for my reply. They all had faces and names that I knew. They were all destined to become the family leaders of tomorrow and the people that are trained to go into places simply to help other people.
Before I could answer I watched all of their eyes reach toward the television located on the wall behind my desk at the front of my room. They watched with their mouths opened and in an attempt to close their minds as the spiked steeples above the burning towers started to spiral in a macabre kind of dance that made them disappear into a dense translucent fog. I then knew I didn’t have to answer the question. It was answered for me.
The rest of my day was filled with the times that will be forever etched in all of our minds. We watched the husbands and wives of families working to make the people they were responsible for safe and comfortable disappear. We watched the children of families whose hard work and perseverance made them their family’s pride being forced to leave their lives. We watched the grandparents who were almost ready to live out their lives doing something they had dreamed they could do never realize their dream because they were destined by someone else not to do so.
I just couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t express what I was feeling in words. I still can’t.