Reaching for Each Other: September 11 Reflections

Oct 18th, 2015 | By | Category: BLTN Teachers, Fall 2015

JessicaDeanby Jessica Dean
Adjunct English Instructor and Writing Tutor
Pellissippi State Community College, Knoxville, TN
MA ’15

Fourteen years ago I walked into a classroom. All of the students watched the television in silence. At 9 AM, our speech professor walked in and turned off the TV. He said something about . . . knowing there were things happening in the world, but that we needed to forget about them . . . in speech class especially, we needed to focus on the task at hand and complete our speech no matter what was happening around us.

I withdrew from the course the next day. The following summer, I took speech down the road from Clemson at Tri-County Technical Community College. In that class, I discovered I wanted to teach at a community college.
Today I get to walk into a classroom and tell this story. Some will remember September 11 with adult eyes and emotions, while some barely will, as they were only small children. I get to tell my students that what is happening in their world matters. It matters to them, and it matters to me. Our classroom is a place where we empower each other with literacy as a way of engaging with the world around us—to read and write the things that need to be understood and shared.

A couple leaped from the south tower, hand in hand. They reached for each other and their hands met and they jumped . . . I try to whisper prayers for the sudden dead and the harrowed families of the dead and the screaming souls of the murderers but I keep coming back to his hand and her hand nestled in each other with such extraordinary ordinary succinct ancient naked stunning perfect simple ferocious love. Their hands reaching and joining are the most powerful prayer I can imagine, the most eloquent, the most graceful.
(Brian Doyle, Leap)

We will read Leap and we will listen to Mr. Doyle read it to us. We will respond to it. (And, after a week of comma practice, we will consider why Mr. Doyle intentionally omitted commas in this particular sentence.) We will read a news article about Black Lives Matter Knoxville and respond to it.

Every choice I make is a new one this year. I am constantly uncertain how to respond to the national, local, and personal tragedies my students encounter, except to encourage them to face them and seek to equip them to respond themselves with courage and love.

Remarkable courage, heartbreak, and love: things we witnessed 14 years ago. Images and and sounds for most—smells and tastes and touches for the bravest of all—engraved into our sensory beings. Yet sense is not to be made. Though, may somehow my, their, your, our acts of remembering the lives lost and hearts ruptured and bodies broken revive us to reach for a hand and turn to face the tragedies of today.

Leave a Comment

Sites DOT MiddleburyThe Middlebury site network.