Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Ever Mindful

When our family visited New York City in 2000, our hotel assigned to us Room 911. We joked about having a room number we could easily remember. Little did we know, 911 would soon become a number no American would forget.

One year later, an eighth-grade boy rushed down the hallway toward my classroom as students switched from first period to second. "Mrs. Prusik! New York City, the Pentagon--we're being attacked!"

"Who told you that?" I laughed, thinking his adolescent buddies had pulled one over on him for sure, but he persisted in his tale, so I turned on my AM/FM radio . . . and learned the truth.

As the tardy bell rang to begin second-period reading class, a room full of eighth graders looked to me, their teacher, for answers. Perhaps for the first time in my career, I had no words.

One girl looked up at me, her freckled face gone ashen, her eyes wide and brimming with tears. "Mrs. Prusik, does this mean we are going to war?"

That word crawled across my skin. Images of Pearl Harbor, Ia Drang Valley, Omaha Beach, Antietam filled my head. Images of injured, maimed, and fallen soldiers not much older than the kids who filled my classroom stabbed my heart. I stared at her, slack-jawed. In all my years as an educator, I had never wanted to withhold the truth from students, but in that moment, I did. I wanted to lie. To protect her. To protect us all.

I glanced out the window at the clear September sky. Ironically peaceful. Eerily quiet. How could I tell these stunned faces what I knew was sure to come? Goosebumps rising, I looked back at her through misty eyes.

"I'm afraid so."

A few weeks ago, I chanced upon one of those former students at the grocery store. A student who left my classroom as a boy . . . and returned from war a man. A man whose Army vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb. A man who faces spinal surgery as a result of his injuries. A man who lost his buddy in that attack.

And a man who--even after all the tragedy he has experienced--says he will return to service after surgery if his body and the Army will allow. Why? Because of the tragedy he has experienced, he explained.

As I gazed into his determined eyes, I recalled that fateful September day, haunted by the shock, fear, and uncertainty in innocent eyes that looked to me for reassurance I could not offer. And I realized this former student knows that look too well. He's seen it in the eyes of children on the other side of the globe, where terrorists can enter classrooms at any moment, select children at random, and strap onto them vests wired with explosives.

Protecting the vulnerable--that's why he's willing to serve.

We will never forget 9/11, but may we be ever grateful to the brave men and women like my former student who risk their lives every day for the sake of others. Including strangers. Including foreigners. May we be ever mindful of their sacrifice.

And may we honor their efforts by living lives worthy of protection.

To those who offer yourselves in selfless service, thank you for sharing the gift!


  1. Thanks for sharing this. I, too, am a teacher and remember that day so vividly. It was our engineer who told me about it upon my arrival at school. I thought he was setting me up for a joke when he said, "A plane flew into the Twin Towers". I simply replied "and" waiting for the punch line which never came. I had 8th grade that year also and I remember their question, concerns, and fears. After a teacher ran down the hallway yelling, "They hit the Pentagon", I got goosebumps on my arms and a student said I looked like I was going to cry. I told them I was because someone was out to get us and (at the time) we don't know who. All three eighth grade classes huddled in one room to watch the live TV coverage. Together, we saw when the towers fell. I looked at my partners and said...we are going to war. Little did I know that 11 years later it still would not be over.

    That year our 8th grade was a very tight-knit group, and I believe it was because of this tragedy.

    Thanks again for sharing your story. And a special thanks to the men and women who continue to protect and serve us each and every day.

    1. Lisa,

      Thank YOU for sharing your story. You and I had a very similar experience that day! My students, too, huddled in a room with students from other classes to watch live TV coverage. I'll never forget our collective shock when the towers fell. I'll never forget my fear in wondering what might be attacked next. And I'll never forget worrying about the students who'd come in years before that group--the ones who were already prime age for military service. No teacher training prepares us for such a moment. Truly, I appreciate your taking the time to share. Blessings to you, Lisa!