Fifteen Years Later

Just as I was 15 years ago when the horrors began to unfold, today I was teaching when we remembered the planes hitting buildings. Today church bells rang twice during my class.   Today I knew what those bells were for.  Fifteen years ago I was teaching second period, Honors English 12.  It was a tiny class.  The year had just started–we barely knew each other.

My teaching partner Sue called my class.  She was downstairs doing a teaching duty when the first and second planes struck.  My phone rang.  She said I should turn on the television, something was going on.  I doubted her; she stressed that I should turn it on.  I believed her.  I had no idea what I was about to show my students.  But if Sue said it was important, it was.

And it was.  I think of that moment of my doubt, of thinking “what could be more important than [whatever forgettable content I was teaching]?”  The innocence of that moment.  The audacity of thinking what I was doing was more important than what was happening.

I don’t think I have ever had that moment again.

Students looked to me to explain the unexplainable in 2001.  In 2016, unimaginably 15 years later, I felt the need to give students the time and space to open their hearts to the vulnerability we have felt this past decade and a half.

That Tuesday morning shifted my world.  It is the moment jingoism and nationalism–not just patriotism–took hold.  I feel like I have been vigilant every day since.  Not vigilant looking for terror.  Instead, vigilant looking for our responses to it.

The hyper-everything that followed that day.  First it was hyper-grief that we were never allowed to feel as we were encouraged to move on with our lives and not “let the terrorists win.”  We needed to grieve.  We didn’t have time to reflect and feel.  Perhaps we moved too quickly to anger.  Hyper-anger.  Perhaps beyond just anger.

Hyper-militarization.  Hyper-masculinity.  Hyper-nationalism.

Hyper-anxiety and hyper-fatigue.

Today I read this poem written a day after the attacks:


Wage peace with your breath.

Breathe in firemen and rubble,
breathe out whole buildings and flocks of red wing blackbirds.

Breathe in terrorists
and breathe out sleeping children and freshly mown fields.

Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees.

Breathe in the fallen and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.

Wage peace with your listening: hearing sirens, pray loud.

Remember your tools: flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers.

Make soup.

Play music, memorize the words for thank you in three languages.

Learn to knit, and make a hat.

Think of chaos as dancing raspberries,
imagine grief
as the outbreath of beauty
or the gesture of fish.

Swim for the other side.

Wage peace.

Never has the world seemed so fresh and precious:

Have a cup of tea and rejoice.

Act as if armistice has already arrived.
Celebrate today.


“wage peace” judyth hill – september 12, 2001
But we never got that armistice.  Because armistice no longer exists.  There is no armistice in a war of ideas.  There is no end to the game of Risk in which fighting parties capture territories and then move on to heal and repair–often alongside their enemy.
So when I read this poem today, my heart ached.  My open, vulnerable heart.  Because we may never know such a peace again.  Because that person who thought she didn’t need to turn on the tv fifteen years ago is gone–an entire nation of us is gone.  Three thousand of us were gone that day.
Some became ash.
Some became heroes.
Some became guilt-ridden survivors.
What have we all become?  Where do we go from here?  Will I ever be less vigilant?
I wage peace with my breath.  And when I fail to do so, I try again.  Breathe with me today.  For the people we lost.  And for the person we lost in all of us that day.

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