Thirty-one Years Later: The Tragedy and a Teacher
by Barry Rosen, Executive Director of External Affairs, and former hostage in Iran for 444 days
As a former teacher, I didn't realize how profound an effect I had on my students' lives until after the attacks on the World Trade Center in September.
At home on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, I received a call from my Office Manager, Erica Staton, that Lauren, who said she was a student of mine 31 years ago, urgently needed to speak with me. Erica said, "She was crying and said she has to speak with you. She told me her husband was on American Airlines Flight 11, the one that struck One World Trade."
After hanging up, I tried to compose myself and reach back into time. I recalled a cute, inquisitive 7th grader who sat up front in my science class at JHS 145, in Rockaway, Queens. She might have been the same little girl who wanted me to date her aunt. It was 1969, only months after I had come home from my Peace Corps experience in Iran. I had been looking for a teaching job in Social Studies, but was unable to find one. So I took a job teaching Science. It was tough. Science wasn't my forte, so I was just trying to stay a day ahead of my students. The school gave me a lot of room to make mistakes because they knew I was young and enthusiastic.
Memories of that little girl continued to flood into my consciousness as I braced myself to call Lauren in Boston. When she picked up the phone, she started to speak a mile a minute, telling me that she was 44 years old now, with two boys, 12 and 5 years old. She recalled some snow days when I would set up the slide projector and show them slides of Iran and Iranians from my days in the Peace Corps. She remembered when I tried to teach them to respect the lifestyles of other cultures because they are just as valid as ours. These ideas stayed with her 31 years later, during the recent tragedy, when she felt like the world was going to blow up.
Lauren told me about her husband, Phil, who was taking Flight 11 to Los Angeles for a routine business trip. She spoke of him as if he were still alive, about how playful he was with the children, and how their fifteen-year marriage was "beautiful."
While there was no real way to comfort her, I tried to tell her that peace would eventually prevail, but that I was more concerned with her and her children's well being. The only thing I could say was, "think of you and the boys and love them."
Published Monday, May. 20, 2002