On a typical Tuesday I drove to work at Rosemeade Christian School, car radio tuned to the classical station for March of the Day. This set my fingers tapping, until an announcement broke the mood -- news of a plane crashing nto one of the twin towers in New York City.
What an unfortunate accident, I thought.
At nine o'clock, after taking my 2nd graders to the art room, I headed to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. Debbie our preschool director stopped me.
"Have you heard?" she asked. "Both towers were hit, and the Pentagon is on fire."
"Golly!" I responded, immediately feeling foolish for using Gomer Pyle's expression. This was no joking matter, but I didn't know what else to say.
While the church staff followed developments on the TV down the hall, several frantic parents arrived to pick up their children. But the principal advised us to go about our normal routine; so most of my students, secluded in our portable building, knew nothing. They assumed their missing classmates had dental appointments. I understood little more than they did anyway. Usama Bin Who?
My 20-year-old daughter Rachel showed up at recess.
"The Art Institute sent us home," she said, seeming not so much upset as curious about the hijackers' motives, and glad of the chance to hug and touch base with me.
We recalled the IRA bomb blast at Canary Wharf in East London about six years earlier, close to the stadium where she and her English friend Becky sat watching a basketball game. A close call. Another grace note in our lives. As it happened, this same friend was now sleeping off her jet lag at Rachel's apartment, having flown over for a visit on September 9. Two days later she might have been diverted to Canada!
As did many others across America, my church met that night to pray for the vicitms, ther families, President Bush, the rescue workers, military, and yes, even the perpetrators, confessing our national sin of pride. It was a simple, moving service.
On Wednesday the classroom buzzed with rumors about those "bad guys" and stranded relatives. Hunter drew a picture of a tower in flames. Ethan composed a poem. Squeezing the small globe ball that we passed around during prayer time, Morgan said, "Lord, bless every place in the whole entire world."
Andrew prayed, "I don't know why they hate us, God. We taught them to fly."
At recess the kids resumed their play, carefree as ever, under a blue but eerily silent sky, normally the busy flight path for DFW airport.
Becky's mum called her at my daughter's apartment. "There's a bloody war on!" she screamed. "How can you not be scared?" A natural reaction for any mother, but I hoped this incident would draw her and thousands like her to find spiritual peace.
As the grim search and clean-up continued in New York, our little school in Texas remained a place of safety. The absentees returned. Aspen cried to think of what might have happened to her mother traveling on the 11th. Richard thanked God for the people who sent bootees to protect the rescue dogs' paws. At First Lady Laura Bush's suggestion, the students wrote letters of appreciation to local firefighters.
"Schumann's Fantasy in C," I wrote in my journal that week. "A respite fom the non-stop news coverage about the Attack on America. It's like Oklahoma City, the O.J. Simpson trial, Northern Ireland, Israel and the PLO. Horrific images replayed over and over, with analysis, public comment, rallies, plus this time a strong element of flag-waving patriotism.... KERA plays beautiful music at the end or each report, as if the violin, piano, or guitar is crying for us like a hired mourner when we run out of words. It lifts our spirits beyond the here and now. At this moment a clear French horn, with a harmony on deeper horns, conjures up a person wandering with his or her companions through the forest."
I took a book from the box my publisher had shipped from New York just days before 9-11: Secret of the Seventh Gate, a middle-grade mystery set in Iran at the start of the Islamic Revolution. I riffled its new-smelling pages, in disbelief that I had written it, and amazement that after three years of waiting it had appeared "for such a time as this," like Esther at the Persian palace in the Old Testament.
I began reading Secret of the Seventh Gate to the 2nd grade, one chapter a day. They all agreed with the characters in the story that faith, family, and friends will see us through.