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Phyllis Witte

We begin the lesson, a short story by Edgar Allen Poe.

It is September 11, a Tuesday, 8:45 a.m., the sky is clear and blue, the air crisp and clean, a stellar September morning by all accounts. As we read on, I stand at my desk, textbook in hand, every now and then stealing a glance at the blue sky through a set of four, six foot high windows; just beyond these windows can be seen downtown Brooklyn and the Manhattan skyline.

A student who has been reading aloud comes to the end of the quote, and with that, another student, Debra, shoots up her hand.


I wait for my student to make some astute comment concerning the reading, but am puzzled by her reaction. From her seat, Debra turns her gaze toward the windows, sets her sights on something far beyond our classroom and then, finally breaking the silence, politely asks, "Is that the World Trade Center on fire?"

I walk over to the window, and suddenly my eyes are caught by the sight of what appears to be flames coming out of the top floors of one of the Towers. I turn back to face the class, but most of the students are already out of their seats, having made a beeline for the windows. Quite suddenly we are all standing there looking out through those large classroom windows, bearing witness to what is happening before us.

For a moment there is an eerie silence in the room, then one of my students cuts through the silence, points to the tower just across the East River, the tower whose flames keeps growing even higher, and says out loud in a matter-of-fact voice, to all of us, to none of us in particular: "My mother is in there."