It was the second morning of sheparding 48 fifth and sixth graders at our annual camping trip at a YMCA camp some 50 miles from school. It was our kick-off event; a way for the students and teachers to come together as a group as the school year began. My cabin was the first awake that morning. We were a group of 6 boys and myself and we were eating breakfast in the cafeteria close to the parking area. We heard the sound of tires on gravel, and went outside to see who was arriving. A handful of parents were popping out of their cars into the sunlight of a gorgeous fall morning. At first, I guessed the parents decided to play hooky and spend an uninvited day with us in the sun. Their faces didn’t show that sentiment; they looked rushed, distracted. They told me some buildings had been hit by planes in New York, and they were going to take their kids home with them. That was the first we heard of the catastrophy.
Those of us that remained followed the camp staff down to the lake where the flag was at half-staff, and we discussed with the students what we knew of the tragedy. I spent quite a bit of time jogging between our group and the main lodge, trying to get a hold of my wife using the camp’s phone (we purchased our first cell phone soon after). Ironically, I could only reach my parents in Canada, and they relayed messages between us. My wife told us of her dad’s heart attack upon watching footage of the disaster, and the shamefully exploitive gas prices at the gas stations in town. My brother, an Associated Press reporter covering the White House at the time, was one of the last to evacuate the potential target.
Our bus returned to the school half-full that evening. I remember being surprised that not a single parent was late in picking up their child. A disaster of that scale made folks punctual, apparently.
I returned home to a changed world.