It could have happened.
It had to happen.
It happened earlier. Later.
Nearer. Farther off.
It happened, but not to you.
You were saved because you were the first.
You were saved because you were the last.
Alone. With others.
On the right. The left.
Because it was raining. Because of the shade.
Because the day was sunny.
You were in luck — there was a forest.
You were in luck — there were no trees.
You were in luck — a rake, a hook, a beam, a brake,
A jamb, a turn, a quarter-inch, an instant . . .
So you’re here? Still dizzy from
another dodge, close shave, reprieve?
One hole in the net and you slipped through?
I couldn’t be more shocked or
how your heart pounds inside me.
——poem (above) by Wislawa Szymborska
When the first plane hit the Twin Towers on September 11, my students who would join me after my prep first period, happened to be watching a news summary in social studies. Their teacher, at first not understanding what he was seeing, continued airing the spectacle. Then the second plane hit and Kevin, a new student to our school, jumped up and said, “My dad works in the Towers.” This proximity to the event would play out numerous times in our community, and on that day, in our school.
When the students came to me, stunned, silent, they asked me what we were going to do. By now the front office had informed all the teachers, but no one really knew what was going on.
On our nearby beach that glorious Fall morning, Steven’s dad had taken his son surfing. Celebrating his newly-retired status, he’d decided that school could take a back seat to time spent with his son doing what they both love. When the planes hit, the guys were sitting in the water. Can’t you see them there, looking over their shoulders, hopeful, awaiting the best one of the set?
From shore they could see the smoke. They were not alone as the ocean emptied and surfers stood watching the horizon, but Steven and his dad were together.
Steven’s dad had retired one week earlier from Cantor-Fitzgerald, an investment firm that lost 658 people in the attack that changed our world.
That moment? His heart still pounds inside me.