September 12th. That’s the day everything changed.
A few weeks previously, I had begun my teaching career as a graduate student teaching freshman composition in room 110 of the Natural Resources Building at Colorado State University. I remember room 110 very well because it was where, six years previously, I took my first English class as an undergraduate at the school. Introduction to Literature.
As an undergraduate, it was my job, I thought, to unpack the secrets of the stories and novels and plays that we read together. And I wrote. Lots. Every week, I produced two typed pages of thinking and reflection and wondering about what I was reading and why it mattered. This was college. It was important.
And back in room 110, with my class of college freshfolk, I was in charge of helping them to unlock the mysteries of the College Essay, the texts that they were expected to produce early and often in their college careers. These 18 and 19 year olds were looking to me, a 23 year old grad student, to provide them with the keys to college literacy. Or, they had to take the class, and I was in their way. Either way, there we were, from 10:00 to 10:50 every MWF.
September 11th was a Tuesday. I remember because that made September 12th a Wednesday. At 10:00am, I was supposed to “teach.” And no one said otherwise.
I made one of the most important discoveries of my teaching career that day, when I decided that class would be optional. It made sense to go. People, I thought, were counting on me to make sense of this. And that couldn’t be done.
But there was something I could do.
I emailed the class that no one had to be there, but that I would be there. Attendance, for a change, would not be taken.
I didn’t expect anyone to show up. But they came. Not all, but most.
And I started class. Sitting on a table in the front of the room, I reminded folks that no one had to stay that morning. I would not advance the syllabus. Instead, we were together, and something monumental had happened. What, I wondered, did folks want to talk about?
And I don’t actually remember the specifics. I remember that there was lots of misinformation and rumor in the air that morning, and that mostly, as someone who had read several articles, watched some CNN, and had spent the previous afternoon in the newsroom of the student paper, where I had worked as an undergraduate, and would work again that Spring, and pulled everything I could off the AP wire as it was released, I was likely the “expert” in the room.
Like that makes any sense.
But I dispelled rumor where I could, suggested sources for folks to explore if they wanted to know more. I mentioned the school’s counseling program for students. And it was quiet. Not silent, but much quieter than a usual day of argument and conversation. We were together, but we weren’t really talking all that much.
I guess it was just normal, or whatever on September 12th could approximate normalcy in the wake of the events of the day before, and normal, on September 12th, 2001, felt pretty good. It was enough.
On Friday, September 14th, we resumed talk of what makes good summary, and how to use others’ ideas in the services of our own, and all the things that you talk about in a college writing class.
We kept going.
And now, as we look back and consider all that’s happened in the world in the last ten years, and how that day changed this country, and me, and most other folks I know in some way, I get the feeling that keeping going is a pretty good way to honor that day.
By all means, take a deep breath and a look back. Think about what happened and what that changed or what that didn’t change. Reach out if you need or want an ear. Look after yourself. Consider what’s worth doing and what’s worth remembering and what’s worth working to restore. But then, one last deep breath.
There’s much to do.
Let’s keep going.