Like many people in the US, I can tell you exactly where I was on that awful morning.
I had been working with a contracting company on a project that was quickly approaching its due date. For the previous month, I had been working 16-20 hour days, fitting in my family when I could. At the time, nothing seemed more important than finishing that project on schedule. So at 3 AM or so on the morning of September 11th, I collapsed into bed with no intention of waking up for at least eight hours.
That didn’t happen.
My husband woke me up at around 8 AM Central time to tell me “the US is under attack.” My husband is not easily shaken, but he was shaken that morning. I came out to the living room and sat down in front of the TV. I watched for a few minutes while my husband gave his account of the events thus far. I hoped that I was still asleep.
I wasn’t. The scenes just got worse and worse.
At some point, my husband got dressed and went to work. I sat there for about three hours and watched the horrors unfolding. I called the office to see if I had to go in. They said I was desperately needed, so I got dressed and went in.
I still don’t know why the folks at the office thought I was needed so badly. We all just sat there and listened to the radio. We shared how we first heard of what was going on. A few people worried about folks that they knew in NYC or Washington D.C. Finally, about 3 PM, the boss came out and told everyone to go home.
No one had to tell me twice! I went home, picked up my daughter from after-school care, and then went home. When I turned on the TV, I realized that I had to explain to my 2nd grader what was happening. (No one from the school or after-school care had wanted to broach the subject without parental consent.)
We watched the news together for about an hour, and then I told her to go play. I didn’t want her innocence to be ruined too.
For the next few days, I watched news story after news story about the lives that were ruined that day. Then the ripples of September 11th reached me in Chicago. Not even 72 hours after the planes crashed into the towers, the management of the contracting company that employed me told me that they would no longer need my services. They believed that, due to the chaos, they needed to cut staff to insure that their company could survive. Eight employees, including me, were being let go.. effective immediately.
The days that followed were depressing. I went from working 16-20 hour days to not working at all. I had nothing to do but sit and watch everything that was going on in the country. While the rest of the country seemed to be asking, “Why?” I was asking a totally different question. For me, it was, “How many of those people went into those buildings because they thought they had to? How many of them will be remembered by other than their families for reasons other than the fact that they died in the tragedy?”
As bad as things were, they got worse. Three weeks after 9/11, my husband got word that his company was shutting down completely. The parent company wanted to consolidate operations to economize, and there was no room in the budget for their Chicago location. Within less than a month, we went from a family with salaries totaling almost $200K to no income at all.
I can’t begin to tell you about how depressed we were in those days. We struggled to keep things normal for the Little Grump, but it wasn’t easy. Mr. Grump stayed strong because he felt he had to be. I was a different story though. There were many mornings that I had to convince myself to stop crying and get on with life.
Mr. Grump and I looked for jobs, but they were in really short supply. The “tech wreck” had started before 9/11. The aftermath of 9/11 pretty much guaranteed that there wouldn’t be a recovery for the tech sector any time soon.
One day, when I walked Little Grump to school, I ran into the reading resource teacher, who was lamenting the abysmal state of the school. In a school of less than 500 kids, less than 40% passed the state test in reading. The teacher was wondering what could be done to help the kids. We talked for about a half hour, and by the time we were done, we had come up with a concept for a special program that she would sponsor and I would run.
I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, but I knew that I was in the right place. I went to the school every day for about four hours. Kids were given the option of going out for recess or coming to the library to read with me. I was delighted to see that many took advantage of the opportunity to come and read to an adult. By the end of the school year, over 75% of the kids in the school had participated in the program, with over 50% coming over half the time that they could. Children who had never read to another human being lined up to read to me. Special needs kids who never trusted anyone outside of their teachers wrapped their arms around me on the final day of school and thanked me for spending time with them.
By the next school year, I pretty much knew that 9/11 had given me a mission. It wasn’t just enough to be great at a job. I needed my job to be something that would make the world a better place.
Mr. Grump and I looked for jobs. For several months, we had been applying for jobs outside the Chicago area. Most of our resume submissions and interviews did not receive so much as a “Thanks but no thanks!”
Then, in October 2002, the miraculous happened! Despite months of absolutely no positive progress in finding a job for either of us, Mr. Grump got a phone call and was asked, “Would like to come down to see if you would like to live in Texas?” We had about $300 left in our bank account, so the answer was something of a no-brainer. Oddly enough, Mr. Grump hadn’t submitted his resume to the company in Texas. Apparently, there was some resume-trading going on. Mr. Grump applied for a job in Seattle and got a job offer from Texas.
The Lord works in mysterious ways!
When we moved down here, Mr. Grump encouraged me to volunteer here as well. That turned into substitute teaching, which turned into a full-time job with the school.
The job that I have now is a good one. I’m respected by people that I respect. I touch the lives of children and make adults feel empowered. The pay is poor, but I’d rather do that job than any that I’ve ever had before.
I bought the two magazines pictured above not long after 9/11. I keep them in my bedside table. On those days that are tough… When some parent or staff member decides to be an absolute jerk… I pull them out and I remember.
Life shouldn’t be about making lots of money or even necessarily about making everyone around you happy. It should be about doing what you can to make the world a better place. When people try to drag you down, you have a choice. Never let them win!