Written by Mr. Sitler, Upper School Religion Teacher and Religion Studies Department Chair
“ . . . for you have striven with God and humans, and have prevailed.” (Gen. 32:28)
“If there is a tomorrow,” answered the low, tremulous voice from the back of the classroom. I had just said to the the class,“see you tomorrow”. It was the morning of September 11, 2001, and I myself was dazed and fearful. I had seen the reports of a fire in one of the Twin Towers before I had left home that morning, and assumed like the news hosts that a small plane had crashed into the building. When a student raised her hand during my explanation of some fine point of ancient Israelite history to say that she heard that one of the towers had collapsed, I dismissed it as overactive imagination. “I doubt that – let’s get back to work.” I remembered visiting the WTC in person and knew how massive and indestructible those buildings were. But then the teacher in the adjoining classroom cracked open the door. “John, come over here, you need to see this.” He had a TV in his room, and the first images I saw on that unedited live coverage were those of bodies plummeting toward the ground. That is the moment it struck me —this is real. “If there is a tomorrow.” I understood how she felt.
We gathered all of the students in the Commons, told them clearly as much as we knew, and reassured them that we would all keep one another safe. Our chaplain led us in prayer, classes were suspended for the rest of the day, parents came and picked up their children. Yes, there was a tomorrow, we returned to school on September 12 — but of course it was a different world in so many ways.
As I worked through my own shock and confusion that September nineteen years ago, one light in the fog was the pride I felt in how our Menaul community was able to spontaneously cope with crisis. To use this year’s theme, we were truly “all in”. In the following weeks and months we were able to help students wrestle with and and reflect upon what had happened. September 11 emerged as a teachable moment, one I could refer to for years to discuss the power of religious ideology, ethics, coping with grief and loss, the impact of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, the question of theodicy – why a good God allows evil to flourish – and many other topics. Now not a single Menaul student remembers 9-11-01, with the good excuse that not one had yet been born. Not to worry though, since for better or worse 2020 seems over-crammed with teachable moments.
Menaul is a resilient, caring community sustained by a deep-seated sense of connectedness, an inclusive spirituality that affirms our Presbyterian heritage by respecting and encouraging all voices. We have endured wars, economic depressions, domestic social unrest, pandemics and even some institutional near death experiences. We are now living through, as they say, interesting times. Yet like Jacob who wrestled all night, we will, through God’s grace, struggle and prevail and move forward, even if with a temporary limp. God willing, Menaul will have many tomorrows.