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  Brad's Teacher Writing: Three Takes on September 11

October 3, 2006

The three timed writing exercises were written in 30 minutes (each). Each one demonstrates the variety of responses one may get to a single topic when written on repeatedly!

Note that each piece is in "draft" form and may not hang together exactly; however, each is worthy of further development. The students' work was equally varied and personal, demonstrating how a "first take" may give new insights into our thinking.


September 11: Writing 12

September 11 marks a division in my life, between what I was (or thought I was) and what I have become. Perhaps my shaking hands that day were the best indication of the seismic shock that the day has had on me from that point forward. From the mundane, making coffee in the morning, looking out to see the brilliant blue sky, to the incomprehensible, two huge buildings collapsing in a cloud of dust. The smoke covering most of lower Manhattan, the people jumping from the towers. All that in a span of 10 minutes or so. And then everyone left. My wife to work. My son to school. My daughter far away in the mountains. Lucky her! Even when she returned it wasnít the same for her. You really had to be there.

I donít know how many times Iíve seen the second plane flying low over the city and seen it, wings tilted, enter into the second tower. What a violation of time and space it was! It disappears and comes out the other side in a gigantic orange cloud. And how pretty the glass in the blue air of that perfect September morning. And how to imagine that in the orange cloud were bits of people, of desks, of computers, of mundane files, cell phones, briefcases?

I think of the song ďAshes to Ashes and Dust to DustĒ and know itís true: all that we have built will eventually be dust. What amazed me and amazes me still is that those 3 000 people, those who died, vanished from the earth in those clouds of dust as the buildings fell. They truly were gone, gone forever. Atomized. And like that girlís voice yesterday in Montreal, that girl who sounded just like my daughter, the evil can come out of nowhere, out of a sunny afternoon, out of anything at all.

We cannot really expect that it is any different. Perhaps thatís what September 11 means to me is that nothing is certain. Exactly as Szymborska says to us in her poem, ďNothingís a gift; itís all on loan.Ē We imagine ourselves differently donít we? We imagine that weíll escape nothingness.

So have I really changed I wonder? Do I really understand how to live with this knowledge? Well, I drive to school every day and know it is more dangerous than anything else that I do. I accept that. But what is unknown will be forever so. When the girl in Montreal went to class yesterday morning, kissed her mother goodbye, said ďSee you laterĒ and really meant it, how could she imagine that it would soon be over? How could anyone? Why should we think it is any different for us?

September 11 could be positive. It could teach us that we donít control everything. We donít get to decide everything. We donít even have to like it. Like going to the dentist. Maybe it could fix us in some way. Iím waiting for it; Iím waiting for it; Iím waiting.

September 11 English 12

Now I have to consider what may happen with my forcing this topic on my students. It made for another sleepless night; how might this affect them; how might this hurt them. But then I think, once again, that it is the right thing, a way into the hearts of my students in the first week of school. We all saw the same things, but how we interpret them and live them is different for each of us. Clearly, for Muslim women, the hurt is much deeper and more personal. They will be singled out for sure. And after what has happened in June, in Canada, it is even clearer.

How to reconcile a mild mannered Muslim man saying that he would answer a call to Jihad from his sunny Victoria home? How to understand men who actively seek nuclear weapons to use on innocent people?How to break through all the loaded language of those who commit similar atrocities, but give them new names: a war against terror that uses terror to fight?

We are being watched in unprecedented ways. Are we really so very bad that we require such treatment? For the better of the whole some say, or why worry if youíve done nothing wrong? But what if the authorities get it wrong? From what I know of those in authority it is a depressing possibility.

And then there is the venal envious nature of man himself. With unlimited power, comes unlimited abuse. I always knew that we, at our core, are capable of anything. Students in a ďsimulatedĒ prison setting would abuse other students within a week of the beginning of an experiment. Just like Abu Ghraib. How are we able to ignore the humiliating abuse against people that we witnessed, that went unpunished, that is almost unmentionable?

September 11 has brought out the worst in us, perhaps. We saw the worst and rose up to meet it. Protecting ourselves, we strike out at others without comprehending. Do unto others as they would do unto you. Well, they started it, didnít they?

9/11 didnít change the world, it changed the way we see the world some might say. The world was always thus. It is a bloody place of feuds and battles; war is the natural condition of man. And planning for war is the natural behaviour of those who rule us. It keeps us interested, hating others for no reason other than that ďdifference.Ē

What solutions might there be for our behaviour, what lead to this, what makes Canadian teenagers want to blow up a fertilizer bomb outside the CBC? Thatíll have to wait as time has run out . . .

September 11 for ELA 11

Again I come to this topic and again I search for an answer. The buildings destroyed posed the question five years ago. What does it mean? What did these terrorists want us to know?

For sure they wished to do more damage. The Pentagon was hit, but what was the 4th planeís target? The Capitol; the White House? It could have been worse I decide and that still affects me just as much today as it did then.

I missed the sarin gas attacks in the Tokyo subway by five days. Just today I hear that Japan will execute the man responsible (some 11 years later). That seemed like a dangerously close call to me then, but nothing could prepare me for seeing two buildings collapse into dust before my eyes that morning.

One of the effects for sure is ďwhat nextĒ? We had, itís easy to forget, the anthrax attacks that followed in October of 2001. One of my students at the time said she had become afraid to turn on the TV for fear of what might come next. She was relieved when all was normal, just the usual car accidents, murders, lost children . . .

And the violence unleashed since that day is hard to stomach, hard to imagine. On the day we lost one young girl in Montreal, Baghdad lost dozens of innocent lives. Here in Canada, itís over; there it continues in a river of blood, day by day, inexorable.

How would I feel, facing that? It seems that whatís happened to us is weíve buried our heads further into the sand. We eat, drink, make merry. We drive oversized cars, use gas without care. Meanwhile, the Inuit need to update their vocabulary. Their language has no words for wasp or for robin. Nowadays they swim in the summer in Canadaís arctic! Maybe terrorism could act as an attempt to get our attention, a call to save ourselves before it was too late. We are truly a plague upon the planet; the deaths from car accidents in a single year equal all those from terrorism in a century.

It seems, finally, that we donít get it. Our world, our safe little Canada, is part of the greater world. And that world is seriously messed up. Much of what we do in the middle east seems dictated by our wasteful and selfish and indulgent habits. Many of us with our own phone, multiple computers, a bedroom for each child. All changed in one generation. Yet we build and build and build, take and take and take.

So, there you have it: the terrorists woke me up, made me feel guilty for who I am, for what I do. Perhaps not such a bad thing?




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