Friday, September 14, 2007

Belated 9/11 Memories

Ground Zero in July 2003

I've been thinking a lot about 9/11 this week. I have started writing this blog several times and just couldn't finish. Not sure why. I have such mixed emotions about the day. Let me try to explain…

2001 was a difficult year for me. At the beginning of the year, I was marking the one-year anniversary of my mom's sudden death. A month later, I was filing for divorce after seven years of marriage following some revelatory conversations with my former spouse. The next month, I moved out and the divorce was finalized. The next few months are a happy fog filled with finishing my masters at Ohio State, finishing the school year where I was teaching, traveling to visit my wonderful friends and trying to figure out what on earth I was going to do next. In July, I moved back to Utah. Utah was the last place on my list as I was deciding what on earth I was going to do next. But, the Lord had a different list, apparently. Back to Utah I went. I was lucky enough to find a great teaching job and got back to work.

Three weeks into an already busy school year filled with tennis coaching and teaching and trying to keep my head above the emotional mess I was still dealing with, I was listening to Chunga and Mister (gosh I miss that radio show) and heard about the towers. I immediately walked out of my office and turned on the TV in my classroom, not quite believing my eyes.

As kids filled the room, I left the TV on. We watched. No one spoke. Class ended. The kids left. The next group of kids came. We watched. Now, both towers are gone and the newscasters have entered the "we really don't know anything new, so we are going to talk about all the things we barely know just so we can tell you something" mode that is so indicative of the 24 hour CNN reporting when breaking news occurs. Katie Couric starts talking about anti-American demonstrations going on around the world where people are partying because something bad happened to the Americans. I turned the TV off.


When I was in Russia with a performing group several years ago, I remember being delayed in the Hermitage as we watched a small anti-American demonstration going on in the courtyard below. They wouldn't let us leave since we were a bunch of bright-eyed BYU kids all dressed in matching outfits. We were a flashing target and our security wouldn't let us leave the building until the demonstration was over. It scared me. I had felt so safe traveling up to that point. It hadn't occurred to me that people would have a reason not to like Americans. Watching the demonstration on TV that morning brought all that back and snapped me out of my daze and back into teacher mode.

No one wanted to sing that day. Lesson plans out the window. I tried to refocus the kids:

Me: How can we help?

Kids: We can donate blood. (Me: sorry, but you aren't quite old enough, but tell your parents to go.)
We can collect food and water. (Good idea)
We can collect clothes. (Good one)
We can collect money. (Fantastic)
We can do a benefit concert, we're a choir, right? (Ummm…..)

This was obviously the best idea for them to directly participate, but my head became flooded with excuses like….
…In order to help, we need to do something very soon.
…We don't know any songs.
…Would anyone come to a concert even if we could put one together quickly?
…We don't know any songs and this would be my first concert in this community that has invested a great deal of time and money in its music programs. If our first concert is terrible, what then? I have to make a good first impression.

The day went on. More kids. More suggestions to help. The kids were scared and this seemed to keep their mind off things.

I arrived home and collapsed on the couch. Literally the most exhausting day of my teaching career. All I could do was sit and watch more TV. Then, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was singing patriotic music on a special broadcast in honor of the day and I was crying for the first time all day. (I can't cry when I'm taking care of others. Doesn't matter how I'm feeling, I can't do it.) Listening to the music, feeling peace for the first time all day, I realized…

…The kids needed to do a concert.
…They need to understand the power music has.
…They needed to know that they could make a difference.
…We needed to take care of it immediately.

I proposed the concert at school the next day. The only night I was available (because I had just been cast in a show in Salt Lake City) was Monday, September 24. 12 days away. (I think it was only 7 school days to prepare.) If we were going to do the concert, we had to learn music and memorize it. The kids had to be willing to handle the publicity and decorating and I would send out press releases. They voted unanimously to do the concert.

What an amazing experience. The publicity efforts resulted in a completely full auditorium. People were sitting in the aisles, listening from the hallway outside, standing in the catwalk. (If a fire marshal had been around, we probably would have been shut down.) There were so many people, it got too hot in the auditorium; the lights kept shutting off in the middle of songs. The kids kept singing. They had their music memorized and did a great job. They raised over $4000 for the Red Cross. I've never seen anything like it.

The kids wanted to do benefit concerts every year. We did them each fall. They raised money for the Make a Wish Foundation, Primary Children's Hospital, and individuals in our community who had fallen on hard times. As far as I know, the benefit concert is still a tradition at the school even though I'm no longer teaching there. Though I'm humbled the kids wanted to keep it up and the subsequent concerts were great experiences, I'll never forget the first one.

After a really tough year, I was starting to find happiness again. I had helped these kids accomplish something they were proud of. And that made me feel better about myself. And I really needed to feel better about myself right then. I have mixed feelings about 9/11 because I am always so sad for the families who have lost loved ones. I know what that feels like. But in so many ways, the things that happened for me around that time helped me rebuild myself into who I am today and I'm so grateful for that.

Me at Ground Zero in July 2003


Molly said...

You did a great job with that concert. The kids were amazing. And just so you know, Chunga and Mister is streaming on the web now,

Yvonne said...

I've heard you mention that before, but it was nice to read the whole story. So wonderful that you were able to help the students turn their grief and concern into something so positive.

Ace said...

I agree--it was neat to hear your story about the beginning of the benefit concert. I feel lucky to have such a cool friend!

Michal said...

great post. thanks for sharing.

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