Monday, September 14, 2015

"If we learn nothing else from this tragedy, we learn that life is short and there is no time for hate.” —Sandy Dahl, wife of Flight 93 pilot Jason Dahl, in Shanksville, Pa., in 2002

I had an exhausting, exhilarating, depressing, and uplifting 3 days this past week.  I know that my listed adjectives are opposites, but those four words describe all 3 days perfectly.  

I spent Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday (9/11) as a reporter for The Total Education Network at the Flight 93 Memorial and newly opened Visitor's Center in Shanksville, PA.  I was with my former student and now colleague Jill Cueni-Cohen, who is a journalist and writer for many different papers and magazines.  I have not written as a journalist since college, but as an English teacher, I did not forget the importance of making connections during an interview.

As a result of spending these 3 days at Shanksville, I am a changed person.

I want to tell you what I learned during those 3 days.  Everyone has a story, and sometimes their pain is so great, that they need to tell the story over and over again to make it be real, even if they do not want it to be real.  Such was the case of the family members who survived, and  who must deal forever with the loss of their child, husband, wife, friend, son, daughter, brother, sister, aunt, or uncle every day. Jill and I were fortunate to spend many hours interviewing first responders, family members, clergy, and townspeople.  We listened to them, cried with them, and bonded with them. Covering Flight 93 on the anniversary of 9/11 was an experience unlike any other in my lifetime. I know this will not be my only blog about this 3 day experience.  

Although this blog is called LESSONS LEARNED FROM THE BUNNY TEACHER, today, the Bunny Teacher would like to share a few of the lessons with you that she learned this week.

First, the pain of 9/11 will never go away for anyone who experienced that terrible day. The new Visitor's Center has a DVD of the events of the morning of  9/11/2001 running continuously. Clips of the reports from FOX news, CBS, ABC, and NBC take each visitor right back to those moments of shock and surprise and confusion on that beautiful Tuesday morning of September 11, 2001. A clip of President Bush's reassuring voice is heard as well, and the visitors and media who watched this were all mesmerized; it was as though we were back on 9/11/2001, and we could not unglue our eyes from watching the horrors on the TV screen.

Second, people really NEED each other - even strangers - to discuss and share their feelings and memories about this terrible day in our nation's history. The pain, anxiety, and confusion are still too much to bear alone.  The visitors we saw and talked with were sharing their personal stories about where they were that day, and how the terrorism of 9/11 forever impacted their lives.  Talking, listening, and sharing do not eradicate the pain, but somehow it becomes easier to deal with when shared with a friend or stranger. This was the case as a huge group of strangers unfurled and then folded the Flight 93 Heroes' Flag together, and we shared our feelings and our agony which we still carry with us. 

Third, it is important to remember those innocent and courageous individuals who lost their lives that day.  It was an ordinary day, and some of the 40 passengers on Flight 93 became extraordinary heroes when they tried to commandeer the plane to prevent it from hitting a target in Washington, D.C.  It is an overwhelming thought to ask yourself if you would have done the same. I do not know how I would have reacted, personally, but I honor each of those who saved so many other lives by sacrificing their own.

Although it was difficult and painful to be there, and I cried many times, especially when listening to the final voice messages left by the victims of Flight 93 for their loved ones and when interviewing family members, I was also exhilarated and proud of being an American. I was glad that i could share this experience with so many strangers, who became trusted friends and confidantes during our brief encounters on this unique and hallowed ground. We all became one person in our love for our country and our pain at such tragic losses. 

Everyone has a story.  Sometimes listening is so much more important than talking. 

Jill Cueni-Cohen has written a book about 9/11- different from any other books about that day.  The title is LIKE IT WAS YESTERDAY, and it is avaialble at 

Rittman Publishing, LLC ® 

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