Lifelines: The Details We Remember When World Events Collapse | New


Terry wooten

I was 15 years old and I was in the study room on a Friday afternoon, November 22, 1963. There was an hour and 20 minutes left in the school week.

The superintendent came to the intercom and made an announcement to the whole school. President Kennedy was shot dead in Dallas, Texas.

A friend and I looked at each other. We were always joking around and messing around, but it was serious. That’s all we knew for the next 10 minutes. There were a lot of whispers.

The children were returning to normal. Maybe Kennedy had only been hurt. Then the secretary of the office announced over the loudspeakers that the president was dead. Thud. The school has hit rock bottom.

After a few minutes of silence, punctuated by cries, the bell rang. We walked like zombies until our last class.

I met my cousin on the south staircase between the second and third floors. She was crying and we hugged.

My sixth hour was devoted to first grade algebra for students who had difficulty with math. The superintendent was our teacher and didn’t show up. Rumor had it that he had collapsed on the fatal news. That’s why his secretary made the second announcement.

No one was there mentally or spiritually anyway. I don’t remember who tried to teach the class, or where X and Y were that day.

The bus ride home has disappeared from the cobwebs of my mind. The November sky was gray as a shroud on the sun. Our bright yellow bus walked through the haze in a spooky future.

We entered the house. Mom had turned on the living room lights and ironed clothes while watching the black and white news on the television. Even Jackie Kennedy’s dress was gray. Thirty-eight years later, the nation was still healing. I now ran poetry and writing workshops throughout Michigan and the United States.

On September 11, 2001, as I walked to schools in Ellsworth, the morning sky was a dazzling blue. Driving towards the scorching sunrise was hard to see. I had a three day residency with a high school English class and fifth grade students in the elementary building.

After my first session of high school, I headed to elementary school. The DJ on the radio mentioned that they would have more information on the World Trade Center bombing, then played another song. I turned off my Jeep and entered.

Halfway through my fifth year session, the teacher left the room and didn’t come back until towards the end of the class. I thought it was strange.

She seemed upset and asked me if I was aware of the terrorist attacks. Half of the World Trade Center had collapsed.

I had two hours until my next high school semester, so I drove around Ellsworth and parked near the community maze listening to the news. It all reminded me of the Orson Wells radio show, “War of the Worlds,” and the assassination of President Kennedy.

The school was in shock. All semblance of routine had ceased, but the English teacher insisted that I continue with my workshop. It helped restore some normalcy.

For months, I refused to write about 9/11. I don’t like to dwell on such vulgar violence. To repeat the evil in a poem would only make it worse.

Then I met Jessica Forsyth at East Bay Elementary, and she told me her story. I wrote the poem that night and sent a copy to the librarian who brought me. The last time I saw Jessica she was attending Kingsley High School and I stopped by the library to say hello.

Poet Bard Terry Wooten has presented and facilitated writing workshops in schools for over 30 years. He is also the creator of Stone Circle, a triple ring of boulders featuring poetry, storytelling and music on his property north of Elk Rapids. Learn more about

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