I was standing in my classroom at the University one chilly, March night, staring out into the night sky.
Tonight I was teaching Web Design 101 to twelve adult students at varying skill levels. I loved my classes at the university these days; I loved putting on real clothes and make up and being someone other than the mother, wife or crazy freak fan of an 80s singer. It felt good that while I wasn’t getting paid for my work as Rick Springfield’s web designer and fan liaison, I had at least developed skills that I could parlay into a paycheck elsewhere. I loved that I was teaching again, even if it wasn’t a classroom with little kids. In some ways, my classroom full of eager to learn adults was even more satisfying to work in, because the students were like sponges just ready and waiting to absorb the skills I was there to impart.
I taught the class in much the same way I’d learned how to create websites myself. I didn’t think it made sense to ask people to buy pricey software to do beginning work, so I found a free Microsoft product online that the students could use in class and download on their own home computers. I set them all up with free web hosting accounts, and off they went, learning slowly how to create text on web pages, then how to obtain pictures from a Google search to use in their pages, then how to add those pages to their pages and finally, how to upload all of it to their own, unique website. I loved watching my students start as insecure and unsure to confident designers who wanted to learn beginning graphic design and other skills to make their websites their own.
The university had asked me to teach a second class for the upcoming fall, a Photoshop class. I was glad that my skills were being noticed and that I was going to be able to take on more of a load at the school. There were a few instructors that had nearly full time jobs teaching both daytime and nighttime classes; for the near term, this was my goal. I was thinking about the possibilities of what else I could teach when one of my students said calmly, “The war has started.”
A chill went up my spine as I broke my reverie and focused on the here and now in my classroom. “Really? How do you know that?”
“When I went onto Google for my pictures, one of the hits was for a breaking news story about the war starting in Iraq.”
I breathed in and out. These weren’t kids, so I didn’t have to control the situation as much as I normally would feel like I had to. In fact, the balance of opinion about the war was so split, the only thing I was concerned about was if we had vastly differing viewpoints in the room. “I suppose that it isn’t much of a surprise to any of us,” I said evenly. “I mean, this was probably the least surprise of any attack ever, right?”
‘They’re calling it ‘shock and awe’,” said my student, reading from a story on CNN.com.
A rustling started as I heard students start typing in their own favorite news websites on their computers. “Go ahead and take a look, and then let’s go ahead and call it a night,” I said from the front of the room. “I know you’ll all want to go home and be with your families right now, and frankly, so do I. We’re nearly done anyway for the evening, so just save your work to your folders and then you can wrap it up.”
As I watched them all gather up their things and wish me goodbye, I felt a heaviness in my chest. I remembered the war in Afghanistan, and where I was that warm October day when we’d all heard the news. I remembered the Operation Desert Storm, and watching the news one night when Zach was a baby on the then brand new network, CNN. It all mingled into a vague sense of unease and worry for the two boys I had back at home; what kind of world were they growing up in? Zachary was thirteen; in five more years, he could be one of those kids out there being either the Shock or the Awe.
I had never made the drive home from the university so quickly as I did that night of March 19, 2003.