Some of us walked into fifth grade the morning of September 11. Some us threw our book bags down into our third grade classrooms, eager to see our friends. It was the second week of school for most of us. Things still felt brand new.
There was hope, fresh chalk on the chalkboard, fresh markers fragrant without their caps on. There was a sense of possibility: anything could happen; anything was possible.
None of us could have predicted what would happen. No one could have predicted what was possible. Nothing could have prepared us for that moment.
The classroom is one of the places that we’ve all felt safest. Sure, they might not have been our favorite places all of the time – like when we missed assignments or had to stay in for recess, or that time we tried to explain that yes, really, the dog ate our homework – but it was there, squished together tightly with our friends, some new, some old, that we felt secure.
We knew that homework went in the “checked in” folder, that snack time was never long enough. We knew where we belonged in the confines of that box. We made sense, so too, did the world. We could see it from the windows. We could predict the ways it would fold and unfold.
But no one thought it would unravel like it did.
Two planes ripped through the heart of an entire city and nation just minutes apart. Shortly after, another plane carrying boys and girls and moms and dads and sisters and brothers and husbands and wives crashed into a wing of our nation’s fortress.
And just when we thought we could take no more, terror ripped through the doors again and left in its wake a badly-burned plane and no survivors.
From the classroom, we watched the world tear at the seams. We heard the news from our teachers, as we sat in our assigned seats. The fresh chalk, the unused markers, the uneven desks and the squeaky chairs were no longer tools of safety and security. They were weapons.
In places where we are so accustomed to structure – you do this activity now, this one after lunch – there was chaos. Havoc reigned. Parents rushed through doors to take their babies home, to keep them within arm’s reach. And who could blame them?
For so many of us, the classroom changed forever after 9/11. Those walls that held us, those chairs that supported us, those windows that gave us a view of the world – on that day, they became glass boxes. They held us down, they held us in.
When some of us walked into our classrooms that fateful day, we didn’t know what terrorists would be taking from us as we walked out. No one could have predicted the possibility of that impossibility.
No one could have predicted that the place that once made us feel so safe now made us feel so small. It was the possibility no one ever saw coming.