September 11: I could not stop watching because I could not begin to understand

View of Mt. Pisgah from Asheville School (Photo: AdmissionsQuest)
I read the following comments during the September 11th Commemoration Assembly at The Westminster Schools today.

          On September 11, 2001, I was teaching at a boarding school in the mountains of Western North Carolina, and I remember that I had a distinct sense that the events of that day would be etched in the memory of each of my AP Literature students for the rest of their lives. I wanted, more than any other moment in my career, to be a good teacher that day.

           During my classes while we listened to the fast moving news on a sorry old portable radio, we wrote and talked about what was most important to us, and we struggled to reconcile the startlingly beautiful and verdant view out of my fourth floor classroom windows with the reality of events in New York, in Pennsylvania, and in Washington DC.  In the days to come I watched the footage of the planes disappearing into the World Trade Center over and over and over again.  I could not stop watching because I could not begin to understand.

          Just days earlier in August of 2001, the nation had been focused on a debate about the relative merits of stem-cell research.  It was an intense debate—the president, the Congress and the news media had the topic running on the high rotation of the 24-hour news cycle and the high octane of charged rhetoric.  Many pundits were positing that this debate would in the end define the legacy and the relative success of George W. Bush’s Presidency.  The events of September 11, 2001 suddenly made the Stem Cell Debate seem like ancient history and the effort to define a president’s legacy seem trite.

          Nearly 3,000 Americans lost their lives that day—ordinary citizens, firefighters, police, and rescue workers. Those who died were on airplanes, in the World Trade Center, or in the Pentagon, and in a couple of hours the lives of their families and this nation were forever changed.  Since that day close to six thousand U. S. Service men and women have been killed in the conflicts that have grown out from the 9 11 attacks, and many times that number have returned home as casualties.

          So today, in anticipation of this sad anniversary, we honor the memory of the victims of that attack, and we honor those that serve the public good and put their lives in harm’s way in response to those in need.  We also honor all the members of the armed services and their families for the unfathomable commitment they have made to our country since that horrible day in 2001.  We cannot understand the extremes of such commitment and should not pretend to unless we have made it ourselves; instead we should simply say thank you and do all we can to support them, while recognizing that the price for preserving our nation rests unequally on the shoulders of our citizens.   

(The World Trade Towers and the QEII Photo:Neal Boenzi/The New York Times

8 thoughts on “September 11: I could not stop watching because I could not begin to understand

    • ellieshumaker September 12, 2018 / 6:43 am

      Ross, Your thoughts are deep and your writing is beautiful. And I just wish that you had been my teacher when i was in high school. How blessed your students are to have you.

      • J Ross Peters September 12, 2018 / 12:41 pm

        Thanks so much for reading. I hope it brought back a few memories of Fishing Bay for you, Ellie!

  1. Janice September 9, 2011 / 4:21 pm

    This is a wonderful recollection, Ross. All your students are lucky to have you – every day of every year!

  2. J Ross Peters September 11, 2018 / 1:30 pm

    Reblogged this on Ross All Over the Map and commented:

    I have written couple of times about September 11, 2001. I revisit both posts each anniversary of the attacks. I have no new insight, so I will just stick to what I have said before.

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