Beginning with 9/11 earlier this week and the impending arrival of Hurricane Florence on the East Coast, I am reminded of how our reality can change quickly. Sometimes catastrophes are man-made. Sometimes they are acts of nature. Either way, they can transform our existence immediately. My advice going into the weekend is simple—make every minute count, and let the people you care about know you care as often as you can.
As you know, I teach a class on 9/11 and the War on Terrorism. On 9/11, I shared with my class this amazing historical project by the New York Times that replays the conversation of the air traffic controllers on 9/11 along with an interactive map that plots the position of the planes in real time.
It’s a remarkable resource that reveals the confusion that day and how unprepared we were for the prospect of hijackers turning planes into flying bombs. There is a particularly powerful part of the audio that captures American Airlines Flight 11 Flight Attendant Betty Ong calling for help. That evening, I found myself tuning into a moving documentary called “9/11 Escape from the Towers.” Through interviews with survivors, it tells the story of how workers in the World Trade Center were able to get out of the buildings against long odds. Of course, the footage captures the chaos and horror of that fateful day.
But the documentary also captures the heroism of Americans helping their fellow human beings. When I teach about what happened on 9/11, I definitely acknowledge the pain and loss. The terrorists who committed that deed represent the worst impulses and thoughts of humans. But we also saw the best of humanity on that day. In this documentary, there is an account of two men helping a woman in a wheelchair descend 68 flights of stairs to an ambulance. They did not know the woman and, in the chaos, never learned her name until later. Another group worked to help a pregnant co-worker escape, choosing to move slowly down the stairwells together, instead of abandoning their friend.
As we prepare for Hurricane Florence, we remember Hurricane Harvey, which hit Houston, and Hurricane Maria, which struck Puerto Rico, with devastating effects just a year ago. During those crises, we also saw inspiring displays of human compassion and outreach. A CNN segment describes Jeffery Urban who rescued a woman on a jet ski. Two brothers, Joshua and Jonathan Evola, drove 200 miles and rescued dozens. As the brothers noted, “I think everyone out there just completely stopped thinking about themselves for once and started thinking about safety and love.” Take time to watch an interview with the brothers.
Here at CA, our kids are settling into their academic routines. Our Lower School got to swim this week before we shut down the pool for the fall. Sports teams have been practicing, and preparing for their Homecoming games this weekend. We want kids to be protected from the pain that life will throw our way. But we also want them to be prepared to do the right thing when the chips are down. A key part of our work with students is helping them learn the skills to help others. This happens in responsive classrooms in the Lower School and through Advisory. It also happens in the classroom, in the arts classes, and on the athletic field. Whenever we have kids in groups, we are trying to instill in them their responsibility to help others and work towards a common goal. It’s reassuring that in the face of disasters, we see this innate sense of good prevail.
My thoughts are with our fellow Americans—those whose lives were touched by 9/11 and those who are about to face Florence this weekend. I am sure we will see communities rally in their support.