Jennifer Angelina Petro
I remember being told school was letting out early—
Parents were coming to pick up their children—
A plane had flown into the World Trade Center
And another was circling somewhere—
We all looked up as we handed the students to their families—
We all felt the shock of a national emergency out of nowhere–
We all moved to our cars with uncertain, fragile steps,
Still looking towards the sky—
And then, by the time we had arrived home, another plane crashed into the Pentagon,
And another in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, not too far from Pittsburgh—
For the rest of the day we huddled around televisions
And radios—and we asked confused questions—stunned questions—
Allah would never—questions—
Two days later when we were permitted to return to school
We pondered deeply what to tell our students—
How could we even come close to eulogizing so many?
How could we explain, with any sense at all, what had happened,
Not to mention why?
My fourth graders and I had a frank, tearful, and frightened discussion—
“Why?” they asked.
“They were sick people,” I said.
“They are evil people,” they said.
“Maybe,” I said, “they were sick, that is what I believe. No well person does things like that.”
“Why did they do it? What could they gain from doing that?”
“I do not know,” I said, “I do not know.”
“Can we get sick like them?”
“No,” I said, “Never.”
We held a long, trembling moment of silence.
We prayed openly for the victims and their families,
We prayed long and hard for the first responders and rescue workers,
We prayed for the dogs still sniffing for survivors,
We prayed it never happens again.
One student asked: “Should we pray for those who did this?”
“I don’t know,” I said, “Do whatever feels right for you. There is no wrong prayer.
Your question is beautiful.”
And then one student, the smallest kid in the class,
With a voice that quivered like the branch of an autumn tree,
Said with holy conviction:
“If I were on those planes, I would have stopped those people—
I would have found a way.”
Later, we went out to the big field for recess,
Still looking towards the sky.