Math = Love: September Reflections on a Life Changed

Saturday, September 13, 2014

September Reflections on a Life Changed

I doubt my sixth grade homeroom teacher knows this, but she changed my life.  I can't remember the occasion, but during the first month of the school year, she gave me a book.  I'd forgotten about this book until this past Labor Day Weekend.  I'm an avid reader, and I have the bookshelves to go along with that passion/obsession.  Though my house now boasts five bookshelves, it wasn't that way when I first moved out on my own.  So, for the past few years, I have kept quite a few books on a shelf in my old bedroom at my parents' house.

Over Labor Day Weekend, my mom decided that to do some rearranging of furniture.  One of her plans involved switching the bookshelf in her bedroom with the bookshelf in my old bedroom.  Easy, right?  Well, after my mom and sister unloaded the 375 or so books off the shelf in my room to move the shelf, they were not exactly in the mood to re-shelve that many books.  When I came over to visit, I was given an ultimatum: "Go through your books.  Take the books you want to keep to your house.  Put the books you want to keep here back on the shelf.  Donate the rest."

This stack of books to go through isn't at all intimidating.  There were actually more than this.  These were all I could get in the picture, though.

I made three piles.  Keep.  Take home.  Donate.  Some of the books were easy to categorize.  Memorable books from my childhood went back on the shelf.  A few math textbooks went to my house.  The hundreds of novels from classical literature that I never got around to reading during my "I'm going to be an English teacher someday" phase ended up in the donation pile.  Going through the piles, I found the book that started it all, the book that was a gift from my 6th grade reading/homeroom teacher.  It was Memories of Anne Frank: Reflections of a Childhood Friend by Alison Leslie Gold.  In less than a second, I knew this book had to go in my keep pile.

I remember reading it, loving it, and wanting to know more about this young girl's life.  When the book fair came to the school, my first purchase was The Diary of Anne Frank.  I had already read about her life and experiences through the perspective of her friend.  Now, I relished the opportunity to get a glimpse into the author's life through her own words.  Reading her diary made me want to keep my own.  But, I didn't do anything about it right away.

Then, the world changed.  On a September morning that same year, two towers came crashing down.  Moved by the events, I picked up a pencil within a few minutes of learning about the tragedy and started writing my own diary.  I was a terrified eleven year old, and my writing reflected that.  I wrote in my 9/11 journal for a few weeks.  I recorded what I had heard on the news, conversations with my parents, rumors of impending war, and, mostly, my fears and questions.

I think I secretly hoped that one day my journal would also be read by the world.  Now that I've been on this planet for nearly a quarter of a century, I no longer have to dream of having my diary published for the entire world to read.  I'm already living that dream through this blog.

I started writing because Anne Frank wrote.  I started writing because Ms. Adams encouraged me to.  I started writing because I had something to say, but I was too scared to give voice to my thoughts and ideas.  The notes Ms. Adams would leave on my essays reminded me to be thankful for my experiences, and she encouraged me throughout the year to step outside of my comfort zone.  If she could see the woman I am today, I'm 99.97% sure she wouldn't recognize me.  That shy girl who always did her homework but never spoke up in class is now a confident, enthusiastic, passionate high school math teacher.  It took some hard work, but she got over her fear of being in the spotlight.  This summer, she even presented at two different conferences for math teachers.  That girl who was encouraged by her teacher to pursue her love of music now plays the piano for her church every Sunday.  

I started writing in the sixth grade on 9/11, and I haven't stopped since.  In 13 years of journaling, I've filled 36 volumes.  Volume 37 is currently in progress.  A shelf in my bedroom holds these volumes.  These pages tell of triumphs and low points in my life.  Other pages cover the mundane.  The pages have been written, read, and reread.  Tears stains dot some pages; other pages include a ridiculous amount of exclamation points.  When I look back at my early entries, I have to cringe.  At the same time, I know I wouldn't be the writer I am today if it wasn't for those early attempts.  If my house is on fire, these will be what I grab.    

Sometimes I wonder how many more volumes there would be if I hadn't picked up blogging.  How many books would be filled by my 400 blog posts?  Writing and the process of reflecting in order to write have changed me.  When I think about how I decided what area of teaching to go into, I have to laugh.  I discounted the idea of becoming an English teacher because I said I hated writing.  Actually, I guess my exact words were, "I hate writing essays, so I'm pretty sure I would hate grading essays."  So, what did I do?  I became a math teacher who writes and writes and writes.  And, amazingly, people seem to want to read what I write.  So, the process continues.    

The list of people who have greatly influenced my life is dominated by educators.  And, I have to hope that someday I will be on someone's list.

I had several high school English teachers who took the time to teach me to write and develop my voice.  To them, I will be eternally grateful.  Junior year.  AP English Composition.  The task: write an essay about a life changing moment.  It was a few weeks before the fifth anniversary of September 11th.  At this point, I had no way of knowing I was still on a journey that was influenced by the events of this day and the gift of a book from a teacher.  I didn't know that the journal I started that day would soon multiply into volume after volume.  I didn't even know what a blog was in middle school.  

Every September, I make it a point to go back and re-read my reflections.  What I wrote in 2006 remains true today.

Not Such An Ordinary Day: A Reflection on September 11, 2001
By: Sarah Hagan

It was just an ordinary school day, or so I thought.  After we had said the Pledge of Allegiance, the principal came over the intercom.  I do not remember her exact words because at that time I had no idea what she was talking about.  She basically told the teachers that they should try to make the school day as normal as possible.  "Why", I thought, "should the teachers have to try to make the school day normal?"
By third hour, I was even more confused.  What was this secret that all of the teachers were keeping from us?  My science teacher had a television set pushed up to her desk and muted so only she could see it.  Why was she allowed to see it if we were not?  By now, I knew something was terribly wrong.
The answer came at 1:18 p.m.  Ms. Jordan, my sixth grade social studies teacher, took the time to tell us all of the events that had happened that morning.  She turned on the news so we could see the Twin Towers crash to the ground for ourselves.  Ms. Jordan realized how great of an impact this was going to have on our lives.  She took the time to listen to our worries and answer our questions.  Who did this to us?  Why did they do it?  Are they going to do it again?  There was not enough time to answer all of our questions.
I knew that this was to be an important event in my life.  I wanted to have something that I would be able to look back at so I started writing.  I wrote about everything that had happened and how it made me feel.  Looking back at those pages, I relive the horrific events of that day.  "It's 1:18 pm and the United States is under siege." That sentence begins my account of September 11, 2001 and the days following.  That night, I wrote, "I'm still scared.  No more news.  I hope it doesn't turn into a war!"  I started to question why this had happened.  I wrote, "I've been praying a lot lately.  Why did this have to happen?"  Luckily, my parents were there to answer any questions I had.  I can remember asking my mother, "What did we do to them to make them do this to us?"  Most of my questions were answered with, "I don't know."  It made me feel better to know that I was not alone.
Ms. Jordan told us that the day of September 11, 2001, would be one that we would remember for the rest of our lives.  It would be a day we would tell our children and grandchildren about.  I tried to imagine myself as an adult who was able to immediately recall the exact day the Twin Towers came crashing down.  I simply could not picture it.  Reflecting back, five years later, I remember the date as if it was yesterday.
Growing up, I thought America was the best country in the world.  If we were not the best country, then why did so many people want to become American citizens?  I felt that war was an uncivilized thing of the past.  September 11, 2001 made me realize that our country was not safe.  We were hated and despised by other cultures.  If they could kill thousands of innocent people, what else could they do?  If they did it once, they could do it again.  For the first time in my life, I feared my safety.
Even at the age of eleven, I knew that this day was a changing point for America.  The events of this day are still defining my life today.  Just as Dorothy realized she and Toto were no longer in Kansas, we woke up that day to realize that we were not as safe as we thought we were.  We woke up that day to never sleep again.  The rose colored glasses of my childhood were abruptly ripped off that afternoon, and my feeling of safety collapsed with the Twin Towers.  

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1 comment:

  1. I actually read this the day you wrote it and was really moved. You are a GREAT writer. I love how you reflected on this day!
    I was actually teaching 1st grade at the time and pretty oblivious to what was going on. With such young students, we did not discuss it. I like the insight to how older students were shared, especially since I teach middle school now.

    BTW.. my parents once called all of us to their house (4 of us) and said, "time to get your stuff out!". I look on it now and just laugh. I am sure I will be doing the same thing one day.

    Hodges Herald