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  • New York: 9/11/09

    Five years ago, on the anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy, I was in New York with Ben, who was about to start rehearsals for Ragtime. Because we were trying to work out the rehearsal schedule and how he would acclimate to his new surroundings, I got to know the assistant principal/dean of students on a first-name basis. This is what I witnessed that day.


    This morning, I was sitting in the assistant principal’s office at my son’s new school when the principal walked in and asked, “Do you think we should have a moment of silence? There are four times we could do it.”

    They proceeded to go down the list: 8:45 a.m., 9:03 a.m., 10:05 a.m., 10:29 a.m. The times were etched in both men’s memory.

    “The last one is during lunch,” the assistant principal said.  “Too noisy,” the principal said. “I don’t think we should do it then.”

    At that point, they agreed to two, one-minute moments of silence — marking the times that the planes struck the south and then the north towers of the World Trade Center.

    This low-key approach, coming on the eighth anniversary of 9/11, was refreshing, especially given that my son is now in a New York City public school just 5 miles from the Twin Towers site. No extremist hyperbole, no talk of terrorists, just two short moments to pause and reflect on a day that changed our world.

    Just down the street, at the corner of 8th Avenue and West 48th, a group of firefighters from the Engine 54 station gathered on this drizzly morning. Together, they walked across the street to a short memorial service honoring the 15 firemen from Engine 54/Ladder 4/Battalion 9 who were killed on 9/11.

    Another Anniversary Story

    On a related note, I was in Chester, Pa., when 9/11 occurred, reporting on a story for my former magazine about the takeover of the state’s lowest performing school district by a private education management company — Edison Schools. Five years later, I went back to see what had happened to Chester and Edison in the interim. The resulting story, “Failing District, Failed Reform,” can be accessed here.

  • A Moment in Time

    Some events become etched in each generation’s memory, so much so that the mere mention of the day it occurred makes you instantly recall where you were when it happened.

    For my grandparents, it was Dec. 7, 1941. For my parents, it was Nov. 22, 1963. For us, it was Sept. 11, 2001.

    Twelve years ago, I was in Chester, Pa., reporting on a story that would appear in the American School Board Journal, the magazine where I worked until this past May. Chester, the lowest performing system in Pennsylvania, was being touted as a grand experiment in public education. With the support of Gov. Tom Ridge, it was about to become the first district to be turned over to a private company — Edison Schools.

    I drove up to Chester, about 2½ hours from where we lived, on Sept. 10. I stopped by one school and talked to a principal, hired from the nearby Philadelphia district. Edison was making a bid for that district, too.

    Textbooks weren’t ready. The teaching staff — most of whom worked under the former district — was not happy about the changeover, accompanied by its threats of longer work days and by-the-book monitoring.

    After a few minutes of walking around, I stopped by the central office and talked to the officials I would meet the next morning. The start of every school year is chaotic and yet full of promise, but as the Edison staff worked into the night, chaos seemed to prevail.

    I stayed overnight at a hotel near the Philadelphia airport, and drove to Chester under the beautiful blue sky that was so prevalent that morning. After an opening of school ceremony with state officials present, my walking tour of the schools began.

    Within two hours, all of our lives had changed.

    Flash forward five years, to when this photograph was taken. I had returned to Chester to visit and see what had become of the grand experiment that had failed so miserably, in part because of what happened on 9/11. Read the story I wrote, and see why — in addition to the events that affected all of us on that day — Chester is a place I’ll never forget.

    For more of my magazine stories, go to

  • Daily Photo: July 13, 2013

    World Trade Center site, December 2004: Ben and Emma had just turned 7 when I took this picture at Ground Zero during our first trip to New York as a family. Note the welded cross in the background; it will be in the 9/11 museum.

  • Reflections: 9/11

    For the past couple of weeks, as the coverage of the 10th anniversary of 9/11 has moved into full 24/7 media frenzy, I’ve thought about addressing it here. And I don’t know how.

    Memories that I thought had receded have rushed back like the floodwaters that hit Northern Virginia earlier this week. But my perspective is personal, not societal, and my memories by comparison are nothing next to the feelings that others must be experiencing today.

    I remember it like it was yesterday, just like you do. I know what I was doing when the first call came in, just like I remember vividly seeing the Challenger explode in the sky 15 years earlier, or where we were when the levees broke in New Orleans four summers after my generation’s Pearl Harbor.

    I remember frantically trying to call my family — I was in Pennsylvania writing a story, Jill was in Virginia, my parents were in Texas. I remember the eerie silence when I returned home the next evening, and how it lingered until planes were allowed to fly again from National Airport.

    I remember the pledges of cooperation among our political leaders, and the vows to track down the people who had done this. And how that spirit of cooperation — that feeling that we all are in this together — didn’t last, at least among our members of Congress.

    I remember riding my bike to the Pentagon and to Arlington Cemetery at 7:30 a.m. on the first anniversary of 9/11, pulled there by something but silent even then.

    I remember the first time we took our kids to the World Trade Center site, reading the names of the missing and dead on a cold winter day two years after it happened. I remember how my stomach sank as we scanned the list, just as it did when I walked through the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., for the first time at age 18.

    I remember reading about and watching — with a mixture of insatiable curiosity and morbid fascination — the first season of “Rescue Me,” the show about the brave but damaged firefighters suffering from survivor’s guilt after making it through 9/11.

    I remember revisiting the story I was writing on 9/11/01 for the fifth anniversary, determined to do it justice even as I was taking on a new job.

    I remember the death of my second “mom” — Fran — on the sixth anniversary of 9/11, just six weeks after my dad’s death.

    I remember sitting in the assistant principal’s office at Ben’s new school two years ago, having just moved him to New York, and listening as the administrators debated the exact times to have moments of silent reflection. I remember leaving the school and walking to a memorial service honoring those killed from the Engine 54 station down the street.

    I remember the little boy standing quietly, dressed in his FDNY dress blues and hat, not saying a word. I remember how his mom held the boy — who likely was a baby when 9/11 occurred — tightly to her and how he turned to give her a hug when the ceremony ended.

    Leave the commentary to the pundits. Watch what you will — or don’t. I saw what I needed to see when that boy hugged his mom.

    On a day like this, these moments of self reflection — realizing just how fortunate I am to be where I am and to have the family and friends that I do, thanks to the selfless sacrifice of others — are enough.

    I don’t know what else to say…