Crash. Near Pittsburgh. Somerset County. Shanksville. SHANKSVILLE!!!? No! It can’t be.
Several of my Facebook friends started posting the “Where were you when …” or “What were you doing …” scenarios we so often share on a date commemorating a significant event. I started to participate and came to an emotional screeching halt. I really couldn’t remember exactly how or when I found out. That moment faded in the shadow of the information and the crashing emotions that were to follow.
I know where I was. Just as any Tuesday morning, I was in my classroom in the 8th grade Wizard hallway at Inverness Middle School. I would have been completing the usual morning tasks that take place in every 8th grade classroom. Attendance. Announcements. The BOCA (beginning of class activity) necessary to start class smoothly and keep some semblance of order.
The next thing I can honestly remember, and that in a blur, is trying to calm the hysterics developing among students who knew people in New York. Students who suddenly thought they remembered someone flying somewhere that day soon joined them in their panic. I have no idea how the World Trade Center information came to our notice. I only remember the aftermath.
The tension increased when the Interpreter for a hearing impaired student in my class realized that these flights had originated near her home in the north. She became pale and anxious, disturbing my hearing impaired student because he didn’t fully understand all that was happening. At this point, I’m sure I was relatively calm. I’m the type who remains calm during a crisis and falls apart later. I can be steady throughout unless it becomes personal. And soon, it did.
The news droned on in the background as I tried to deal with students’ questions and emotions. I heard something about a plane crash in a rural area. From this point, everything else fades and my actual memory of that day strikes me with a shiver, as if a cold hand had grabbed me by the back of my neck and sent icy fingers down my spine.
I heard the name Shanksville. They said Shanksville? Shanksville, Pennsylvania? A tiny town with a population less than the number of students at IMS. In fact, it’s population is less than the number of students in our 8th grade. That little town’s small population included my stepdaughter, Kimberly and 5 year old granddaughter, Alexis.
Early reports had the crash site in Shanksville. That thought was horrifying. If a plane that size came down in Shanksville, there would be no town left. The school where Alexis was attending kindergarten was in Shanksville. This news story was no longer a national crisis to me. It was a personal one. I suffer from a panic/anxiety disorder that comes on suddenly & takes some time to get under control. Fortunately, friends on the Wizard team were aware and were able to keep me as calm as possible until a break in our schedule would allow me to go to my husband’s classroom.
From that point, we were both upset. It helped some when news reports clarified the location of the crash site. It was in a field – a reclaimed strip mining site in the countryside. Property where my husband & his family had once lived. Wow.
We really didn’t feel much better until we had reached Kim by phone. Even then, the news was disturbing. The small office where she worked was a short distance down the road from the crash site. She heard it. She felt it. She went to it and was among the first people on the scene.
I honestly don’t know how the experience impacted Kim. She has really never shared much detail. I imagine it would be too difficult. I think it did leave its mark. For her, I believe that was one of those moments when your world shifts on its axis and you see things differently. I know that was when she seemed to mature dramatically and deal with the world differently. She learned that bad things sometimes come crashing from the sky right above you.
For me? I can’t think about 9/11 without remembering that chilling fear. The horror of the entire event, the impact on the families and survivors, the consequences for our nation – for me, these things pale somewhat when I am reminded of the fear I experienced when I thought people I cared for so deeply could have been lost to us.
So … the reason I did not participate in the “Where were you when … ” postings on FB. It was just too complicated. It was just too important. It deserved more.