Lead on, O King eternal, the day of march has come.
Henceforth in fields of conquest thy tents shall be our home.
Through days of preparation thy grace has made us strong;
and now, O King eternal, we lift our battle song.
I was in the stairwell at James I. O’Neill High School, passing Maia Judd. Everyone else was in class, but I was taking my normal “going-to-to-bathroom-but-really-just-taking-a-walk” break from Global Studies. I was wearing bell-bottomed jeans that’d I’d purposefully bleached and ripped, and a shirt from American Eagle. I was smiling, I’m sure of it.
Then she stopped me.
“Claire,” she said, putting a hand to my shoulder. I remember her wide, green eyes, and big eyelashes looking at me with fear. “Have you heard what’s going on?”
We lived at West Point
at the time, just 40 minutes north of New York City. That morning, my mother took a walk along the Hudson river around 8:30 A.M. She remembers the beautiful crisp air, perfectly blue skies, and a strange low-flying plane passing overhead. For some reason, she was humming a hymn in her head, and will never forget the lyrics.
Lead on, O King eternal, til sin’s fierce war shall cease,
and holiness shall whisper the sweet amen of peace
For not with swards loud clashing, nor roll of stirring drums;
with deeds of love and mercy the heavenly kingdom comes
They wouldn’t let us turn on the news at school, so Maia told me rumors were flying. The capital had been hit. San Francisco had been flooded. We were at war. She didn’t know the truth. But she knew the Twin Towers had been hit. I immediately thought of my teachers who had brothers and sisters, sons and daughters who worked in the city — family who worked in the World Trade Center. Had they gotten to work early? Were they trapped? Were they killed?
But then there was another, quiet anxiety rising in me. While some of our friends had parents in the city, who I hoped would come home safely — I also knew this meant my dad, my friends’ dads, and our brothers, sisters, and 4,000 cadets at West Point would be leaving soon. Victims would come home to knock off the dust of the towers, but soldiers would soon be covered in the dust of Afghanistan.
Maia stared at me and asked if I was okay.
“Oh my God,” I said. And I turned around and walked up the stairs with my friend, back to class. Sitting in Global History, I don’t remember what was said. I was just waiting to get home and see what this meant for my life, my family, my country.