Monday, September 11, 2006

Five years ago today . . .

. . . I was driving out to school, thinking about the day's discussion (whatever that was; I no longer remember) and listening to Morning Edition, when I heard the first report--reported as an accident. Shocking, yes--how does one "accidentally" crash into one of the world's tallest buildings?--but not enough to derail the day's thinking about whatever it was I would be teaching that morning.

My commute in those days was short--20 minutes or so. By the time I got to school and went back to where the communal coffeepot was, the derailing was in motion: someone had set up a TV in the room with the coffeepot, tuned to ABC. The second crash had occurred. This was no accident, Peter Jennings was saying. Rumors of car bombs in Washington, D.C. No one quite sure where the president was, who was responsible. I was too shocked to feel even sadness or anger, yet. All that would come later, and still comes (though, today, those emotions have very different sources).

Now, what was it I was supposed to be doing that day? I still remembered, then, what I'd scheduled on the syllabus. But class was to begin at 8:30, and it was time, but in the meantime there was the morning's news and trying to make that square with my memories of of having gone to New York back in May just to see the Vermeer exhibit and, in particular, of my walk through Central Park to get to the Met on a glorious sunny Saturday both-warm-and-cool morning.

And then I walked by a colleague's classroom. She was teaching some sort of math; her board was already covered with complex equations. I would later envy her her subject: that day, as it appeared to me, she had the luxury of plunging herself and her students into a different language, a world of abstration detached from the world that is the arena of English teachers--one that's supposed to intersect with this world; she and her students were, however superficially that day, immersed in a world of ideas that allowed them to exist in a space of, if not forgetfulness, then of putting-asideness, at least for a few hours. But just at that moment, I looked in on her room and asked myself, How am I supposed to teach today?

And so I didn't that day. Nor the next day. We just talked in my classes about what was going on. It would be two weeks before we could get back on track, but, of course, we would keep circling back to that day, those days, for the rest of the semester. And even now, what handier example of a paradigm shift is there? Too young to have actual, lived-in/through memories of Vietnam and Watergate, that day is immediately accessible to all of us, for better or worse.

Friends in both New York and D.C. would later tell me that they were fine but that they both knew people who had died that day. I called my children that night and hugged them over the phone. The next night I drove up to Lawrence to be with the future Mrs. Meridian. Many of us had those sorts of experiences then, such is our nation's interconnectedness these days.

Today--this day--is not a moment for recriminations or politicizing. There has been/will be more than enough of that. Would that there were no politicizing of this day whatsoever by either party for any reason. But today is, or should be, a day simply to remember, to grieve, to recall, as j.d. so ably puts it towards the end of this post, what it was like to be united as a nation . . . and then act out of that memory.

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