Do you remember that song by Alan Jackson?
I wish with all my heart that I couldn't connect with such a song,
but I can.
"Where were you when the world stopped turning that September day?
Teaching a class full of innocent children,"
That is exactly what I was doing.
I had just started my second year teaching 5th grade. I was heading down the hallway, back toward my classroom to finish up some early morning paperwork while my children were at a special (Phys.Ed to be exact) when I was called into (our principal) Sue's office. She didn't say anything, just pointed at the television in her office. It took me a moment to figure out that there was something terrible happening. I remember her saying something about an "attack". I don't think she used the word terrorist, it really wasn't on our minds back then. I remember watching the first plane hit the building and being unable to say anything except, "I've never seen anything like this." I will never forget what she said to me in return. Sue simply said, "No one's ever seen anything like this."
That's when a part of me started to die inside.
I remember, moments after her comment began to sink in, as I stood glued to the television, the reporter came back on in a panicked voice telling us that what we had just seen was not the replay that they had already begun looping for the world to see, but a second plane hitting a building.
A second plane.
This wasn't an accident.
This wasn't an accident.
"Did you stand there in shock at the site of
That black smoke rising against that blue sky,
Did you shout out in anger
In fear for your neighbor
Or did you just sit down and cry,"
I just sat down and cried. Right there at Sue's table.
When I saw the second plane hit, I recognized the buildings.
I simply looked her in the eyes and told her,
"Brock works in that building".
I'm not really sure what I said after that. Maybe nothing.
I was in shock. I'm not even sure if I mentioned how I knew Brock.
He was my neighbor. Not right next door, not on the same street, but close enough to go to the same elementary school, shop at the same grocery store, and get a ride home from each day after high school.
Close enough to have been a part of each other's lives for the past 20 years.
It was so incredibly hard to pick up my children and continue the day without letting them know that anything had happened.
I was scared.
I was scared for Brock. I was scared for his family.
I was scared for my family, for Rex and for myself.
We all tried to keep smiles on our faces the rest of the day, sneaking "bathroom breaks" to check to see if the news was reporting any sort of answer as to why this was happening. At lunch we learned about the Pentagon and the plane that went down in Pennsylvania. We began to hear stories of heroes emerging from the smoke, and those who gave their lives to help others that day.
We tried to call home at lunch. Most of us didn't get an answer.
Somehow we made it through that day at school.
I remember shutting off the lights at the end of the day.
I paused and just stared at that empty classroom.
I really had no idea when we would be back to work.
What had happened to the world in those last 8 hours?
In that moment I clearly remember thinking,
"It will never be the same.
The world has changed for these children."
We really did change that day.
I remember so much, so clearly, about that day and the weeks to follow, but at the same time, I feel like I was in a fog for months.
We watched flags appear on buildings, in front yards, on cars.
We saw stickers, clothing, mugs, signs, nearly everything imaginable adorned with the American Flag.
(The shirt I made to wear to work.)
"Driving down some cold interstate
Did you feel guilty cause you're a survivor"
I did. Constantly.
Brock was one of the most amazingly smart, talented and genuine people I had ever known. Why did It have to be him?
(This is the flag we drew on our bedroom wall in honor of Brock.)
"In a crowded room did you feel alone"
No matter how many people surrounded me with kind words and hugs,
I felt alone.
"Did you call up your mother and tell her you love her"
Every. Single. Day.
We talked about what had happened. Daddy told me not to be scared.
(He even presented me with statistics to help ease my mind.)
We talked about Brock.
At one point Brock's mom even thought she had seen him on a news clip.
We kept hoping.
"Did you open your eyes and hope it never happened
Close your eyes and not go to sleep"
I still do.
(Photo taken by a friend during his visit to Ground Zero.)
"Did you notice the sunset the first time in ages
Speak with some stranger on the street"
That's the miracle of it all really. I think we all became more aware of just how blessed and lucky we were. We were no longer strangers to one another. We had a common experience that bound us all as one family. And as a family we vowed to move forward. To show the world that our hearts may have been broken, but that our bodies and our spirits weren't.
We WOULD get back up.
And we would appreciate what we have, and who we are.
We are PROUD to be Americans.
"Did you turn off that violent old movie you're watching
And turn on "I Love Lucy" reruns
Did you go to a church and hold hands with some stranger
Stand in line and give your own blood
Did you just stay home and cling tight to your family
Thank God you had somebody to love"
Little by little it helped us heal.
"Did you burst out in pride
For the red white and blue
The heroes who died just doing what they do"
For years I had trouble with the Pledge of Allegiance every morning. There's just something so jarring and innocent about it coming out of the mouths of ten year olds. Do they really understand how much that flag means? Do they treat it with the respect it deserves? Do they understand how many have given their lives for it?
I hope someday they will.
"Did you look up to heaven for some kind of answer
And look at yourself to what really matters"
I like to think I value life differently now.
I lead with my heart.
I'll be the first to admit that I don't always manage my time wisely, but I, (WE) do not take our friends and family for granted anymore. We TRULY value the people in our lives. We would do anything for them.
We laugh with them, cry with them, and give them our hearts.
We are proud to live our lives this way.
In a way, it helps us heal.
It's hard to believe that it has been ten years already. I can't say that I spend every day thinking about Brock or the tragedy of September 11th, but it's never far from my mind. The dreams come only once in a while now. Always Brock, always comforting, telling me things will be okay. I always wake up feeling like he's given me a big hug.
The others reminders are less painful now too:
bowling shoes (he had the largest feet of anyone I've ever known),
a Pearl Jam song on the radio (his favorite),
a visit to the meat counter at Tom's (where he worked),
a Lion's game on TV (he loved the Lions!),
running across stacks of letters he wrote me in college,
they help me remember the good.
I still surf the internet every once in a while looking for kind words that others have written about Brock. And there are so many kind articles written about him. Most by people who never even knew him, who never caught that smirk he would give you when he was about to say something completely hilarious, yet a bit cutting at the same time.
I recently stumbled across my own comment on the blog A Slice of Life
where Susan took on the difficult task of making a tribute quilt block for Brock.
(Photo from Susan's Blog)
While surfing the internet today I found your blog. Although you did not know Brock, you have done an amazing job paying tribute to him. Thank you for your kindness and generosity in a world where life can be a bit of a challenge at times.
I met Brock on my first day of Kindergarten. We survived two years of elementary school together and were separated for the academic years to follow, only to be reunited each summer on the ball field. My brother and his brother Aaron were on a team together and his sister Cyrina and my sister were on a team together. Needless to say, I spend most of my free time at the ball field either hanging out with Brock or watching him play with his own team. In junior high, we began spending more time together as we were placed in some of the same classes. In high school we were together a lot. My boyfriend Kyle was one of his best friends. Throughout high school and into the first couple years of college, we could be found listing to music (always HIS favorites), bowling, hanging out, playing catch and football and hunting in his backyard for mushrooms. Brock always gave me a hard time (I was the only girl in the group) and picked on me merciliously, but I always knew how much he cared. I recently ran across a pile of letters (snail-mail at that) that Brock wrote me in college. They were filled with great memories, friendly insults, and enough quotes to make you relive the 90′s. I am so very grateful to have these concrete symbols of our friendship. I loved Brock dearly and think of him so very often. I wish he didn’t have to leave so soon. Thank you Susan for such a moving tribute. You are a hero to me.
Just between you and me, September 11th is hard for me.
It's the day Brock, and so many others were taken from us unexpectedly.
The day we remember the shock and devastation.
But I want to remember Brock as he lived.
The 10th Anniversary specials on television are of no interest to me today.
It would be impossible to tell all the stories of the people who were lost that day.
And honestly, they only truly matter to those who hold them in their hearts.
That's where you will forever be for me Brock, in my heart.
Starting today I will choose to focus only on how you lived.
Love Always and Forever,