As students at a tiny high school in western Pennsylvania's rural Somerset County watched the terrorist attacks unfold on television, they were comforted by the thought that the remote and peaceful world they live in--a landscape of heavily wooded ridges, sleepy mountain villages and rich, rolling pastures--was naturally buffered by terrain and sheer distance.
Then, at 10:10 a.m., tremors rocked the building. Doors quivered and plate glass windows rattled. Seconds later, the students saw a towering fireball blossom in the sky above a distant tree line, marking a site, a half mile away, where United Airlines Flight 93 slammed into a hillside. In that moment, the children of Somerset County, may have lost the sense of safety and security they once assumed was their birthright.
"We think sometimes that we're so far out in the country, we're so far removed, that the world doesn't affect us," says Gary Singel, superintendent of the Shanksville/Stony Creek School District in Somerset County. "Fads are slow getting here. When everybody's piercing their ears and other body parts, we're not doing that. It takes a while, and then suddenly somebody shows up with an earring and we say, 'Oh, it's finally arrived.'
"The outside world seeps in, it doesn't rush in. Well, this rushed in. It came quickly, and suddenly Shanksville is being mentioned by Tom Brokaw on the national news. This brought things into perspective very quickly. What happened in New York and the rest of the world is now in our backyard, and we're tied to it."
Singel ordered counselors to the modern three-story building that houses classrooms for the district's 500 students, but he says few students have sought their help. "I don't think they wish to think about it," he says, "but I think they do think about it, and I think they talk about it with their friends. I think what's on their mind is, 'What does the future hold for them? What will the world be like in 20 years? Can we hope for 20 years? Can we solve this problem?' "
Singel feels that the anxieties caused by the attacks will affect children of this generation even more deeply than the Cuban missile crisis and the fears of nuclear war that troubled the children of the early 1960s. "This is more frightening in that it's happening on our soil, and it's so difficult to guard against," he says.
Still, Singel believes there are enough bright spots amid the tragedy to give his students some hope: the heroism of emergency workers in New York; the bravery of the defiant passengers on Flight 93; and, more immediately, the outpouring of compassion and support offered by their own relatives and neighbors for the families of the crash victims.
Singel hopes that the students grasp these lessons of unity and connection, because he says it's the sort of wisdom we need to guide us through the new world that was born that September morning.
FATHER JAMES WILLIAMS
Long Island, N.Y.
Waiting for the Real Repercussions
How does one move on? How does the president of a Catholic school where four boys lost fathers and 40 students lost close relatives help his children and teachers get on with life?
"We have to confront this tragedy no matter how painful, because the reality is, everybody in our school knew somebody," says Father James Williams of Chaminade High School in Mineola, Long Island. "We have to see that there will be joy again, happiness again, and in order to get there, we'll have to be able to incorporate the difference into our lives and move forward."
Students and faculty pray a lot. "I have to remind myself that this day didn't just end on the 11th, and to remind others that this isn't all we have, and that for those people who died, their eternal lives have just begun," Williams says.
"In eternity, God calls the shots. There aren't any terrorists in heaven."
Williams, 32, is one of the youngest high school principals in the state of New York. One year after taking the helm of Chaminade, one of Long Island's most selective private schools, he now has to steer his boys through an ocean of grief. In addition to the devastation among families of current students, 20 alumni are dead or missing. And fathers of dozens of boys are firefighters, police officers and emergency workers.
"I have boys who come to me and say, 'Father, my dad's never coming home,' and they're talking about the psychological damage this has all had on their fathers, who are firemen, policemen. They come home from ground zero and they're just not there. They cry, they don't talk, they just sleep and go back to work. And this is how it's going to be for months to come," says Williams. "We have so many kids who are mourning deaths, and others who are mourning a kind of living death. The impact is so huge-- I don't think we've even begun to feel the real repercussions of this yet."
HOOD QA'IM - MAQAMI
New York City
At Least Bigots Are Still Funny, Right?