The Block Island Times

Rhymes to Reason: Children and families of 9/11

By Sherry Fisher Carley | Oct 11, 2012

It’s been almost a month since the anniversary of 9/11, and yet I can’t get it out of my mind.

The Prophet Muhammad once said: “To gladden the heart of a human being, to feed the hungry, to help the afflicted, to lighten the sorrow of the sorrowful, to remove wrongs of the injured, that person is most beloved of God, who does most good to God’s creatures.”

Reading this over and over, I found myself trying to understand the ideology of al-Qaeda. What do you think? Do you remember where you were on 9/11? I do, to the minute.

I am writing this as a reflection of the evil and terror that passed through our lives that horrific day.

There were many families left fractured and so many children left behind. I was sitting at my desk in my classroom working on lesson plans like any other day. The children were with their teachers playing and getting ready for circle time. Then, the dreaded phone call. It came in from my daughter Allison. That call was nothing I ever expected, and every parent’s nightmare.

My daughter was screaming and sobbing hysterically. I’ll never forget what she said: “Mom, a plane flew into one of the Twin Towers. Mom, John is down there. I am am so scared. We don’t know if he is dead or alive. Mom, thousands of people have been killed. Mom, I cannot reach John by phone.”

My oldest son John worked in downtown Manhattan at the time. I was totally emotionally paralyzed. I tried to call him but cell service was down. Frantically and trembling I called the main school immediately and asked them what was going on. The secretary said the news coming from the metropolitan area of New York was vague.

The next call I received was within five minutes. Again my daughter, who at the time was midtown at work. She said that John got a call out to her and he was being evacuated then. His building was next to the Twin Towers. After he called, another plane flew into Tower 2. His cell phone service was cut off and she was afraid. From then on for the next six and a half hours I lived a mother’s nightmare. All the bridges, tunnels, ferries and highways were closed. All I could do from where I was in New Jersey was watch the TV and the smoke in the distance.

That day the world as we knew it felt like it had ended. The nightmare had started. Parents calling wanting to remove their children from school. Many of our parents, both moms and dads, worked in Manhattan. So, slowly, the children were sent home with parents. Or at least, the lucky ones were.

So many of our children lost mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters and friends. I was taken out of the classroom and sat in the main building while downtown Manhattan burned. The reports came in little by little. So many families were fractured. I sat and thought all day, “How could this happen?” My adult child might be gone.

My reflection was of all the trouble and worry I had gone through to have him. The threat of miscarriage three times in those nine months. Dropping out of college for a quarter to protect my pregnancy. The time he fell from a four-story building in Manhattan and landed on a picnic table. The broken bones, the worry. Thanking God for keeping him safe. Now, he was in the middle of a terrorist attack. I sat in the office waiting for news, not knowing where he was and wondering how many people were dead.

I received a call at about 3:30 p.m. that afternoon. John was okay. Connecticut still had phone service and John had gotten a message out through someone.

As you know, about 3,000 people died that day. Many people I knew were among them.

When I saw John, he gave an accounting of what happened to him that day. He was evacuated while the second tower went down. The fireman and police told them to run to the water. As he was running, people were jumping out of buildings. John said he was picking up women who had fallen and dragging them with him to the water.

He said as he looked back at the towers, he thought he was seeing a tidal wave coming at them. What he really saw was a 40 to 50 foot wave of dirt and debris coming in his direction. They all kept running until you could not run anymore.

There were so many people lost that day. It is still a very hard concept to imagine, let alone to try to explain to children. What does it mean? So many suffered in that attack. I keep reading about Muhammad, trying to understand what drove al-Qaeda. Nothing has ever been the same since that day. We continue to heal and praise our military and I hope the teachers of the future will not forget to include what happened on 9/11 in their curriculum. America should never forget.


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