“To the ones who’ve left: you’re never truly gone. The candle’s in the window and the kettle’s always on.”

~Ensemble, Come From Away

Running was a side note this week, as was any thought I had of reading up on current goings on in Afghanistan if I’m being honest. I got my fifty-five miles in, culminating Saturday morning in a twenty-miler with my friend Jared in rain-drenched conditions. I’ve learned enough over the years that I didn’t suffer for the decision to run in the rain; Vaseline on my feet prevented blisters, and running without a shirt on prevented the chaffing that is otherwise all-but-guaranteed to accompany three plus hours of running in wet clothing.

Sunday morning, September 11, I woke up a little before four to catch a flight to Chicago. Between e-ticketing and TSA Pre, after my dad dropped me off I was able to arrive at the airport and more or less walk directly to my gate. We boarded the plane en masse, but then the fun started. The flight was delayed, then again, and then again. At one point the odds of taking off seemed so hopeless they actually let us walk off the airplane. I went back to the terminal and got a coffee and a bagel. I read from my book, a work of fiction about teaching, then looked over the slides for my first presentation, then my second, and did some writing on the airplane. I texted my contacts in Chicago to let them know what was going on. And I waited.

In the airport, I ran into Dave, an old acquaintance, and his wife. Years before, I had received a call from Sam, a friend of mine who was, among so many other things, a survivor of the Holocaust. Sam called me one day during my plan period while I was teaching and I took the call. “Mark,” he told me, “I am going to send you the phone number of a man named Dave, and I want you to give him a call.” I said I would, and the next day reached out to Dave, who had been told to expect my call. A week later Dave and I met, for no real reason other than that our mutual friend had suggested we do so. Dave is an educator as well and we spoke for a few hours about our craft, the Holocaust, and other mutual interests. Sam passed away that very night, and Dave and I have stayed in touch off and on ever since. On the airplane, I sat next to him and his wife, who is also a teacher, and chatting with them helped to pass the time.

Sitting on an airplane on September 11 is an experience. Many people were visibly nervous. I’m of the age that I’ll never forget that day, twenty-one years ago. For many years, I took students to New York City and we would visit what was when I began a construction site and later became an amazing museum and memorial. Taking students there was one of the most powerful things I ever did as a teacher. At first, the students I took had memories of the day, some of them vivid, some of them even traumatic. Years later, however, my students were born after the event had occurred, and though they had spent their entire lives living in the aftermath the dots didn’t connect intuitively for them. Visiting the memorial, if anything, became more important as time passed, and as we perfected the experience the day ended on Broadway at a production of Come From Away, a powerful musical about the herculean efforts of the people of Gander, Newfoundland, after dozens of airplanes were grounded in their tiny town that day.

Eventually, I made it to Chicago, caught a cab, and gave two very well-received talks with teachers on Holocaust education and my research in Sarajevo. Afterwards, an interviewer asked me “When you do these teacher-trainings, do you intend to empower and inspire or does it just happen?” I don’t recall precisely how I responded, though I remember being rather moved by the question itself.

That night, I met up with a former student, Angel, for dinner before heading back to my hotel to finish the book I was reading, The Unteachables by Gordon Korman (I recommend it), then hit the pillow hard. As I drifted off to sleep, my mind was on the past twenty-one years, and how the entirety of my adult life has been lived in a post-9/11 era, defined in many ways by fear and prejudice. I know that if things are going to improve, it will be teachers—as always—who lead the way, and the ones I had the pleasure of working with at the museum offered me hope that they’re up to the task. As ever, thank you for reading and supporting me in the Kandahar Marathon.

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