Ten years ago, I was a freshman in high school. My favorite teacher was Mrs. Stevens. She was a middle-aged hippie who had a short, trendy haircut and wore long, flowing skirts and sweater vests. She had an East Coast accent, and best of all she taught English, my favorite subject.
On September 11, 2001, I was in her third period English class when Mrs. Stevens wheeled a tall black cart into the room. There was a television on top of the cart. Mrs. Stevens plugged the cord into an outlet, and turned on the television.
The whole class watched the breaking news. Footage of the strapping towers crumbling, one after the other, played repeatedly. Smoke, fire, and chaos encompassed New York, and a somber tone enveloped our classroom. Finally, the audible tone that marked the end of class rang out over the speakers.
Mrs. Stevens told us that the events of that day would end up in our children’s history books. I knew how serious that day was, but I didn’t understand what was happening.
One year later, I shuffled down the empty hallway with my trumpet in one hand and my mouthpiece in the other. Everyone else was in class, but I was headed to the office.
I buzzed on the mouthpiece while I was walking, to get my lips warmed up. The duck-like noises reverberated throughout the halls.
Finally, I threw my shoulder against the door of the office and pushed my way through. The school secretary placed a phone receiver on the desk and waited. I played a few notes and then looked at her and nodded.
The secretary pressed some buttons and then I heard a familiar tone coming from the speakers in the office. I knew it meant that everyone in the whole school would be listening.
I raised my trumpet, took a deep breath, and pressed my lips to the mouthpiece. I played a G, followed by another G, followed by a C. My fingers remained still, atop the valves of my brass trumpet, but my lips formed shape after shape to produce the sounds of four different notes.
For thirty seconds, I played Taps. I was shaking and covered in goose bumps, but I kept playing. I played for my family and friends. I played for my classmates and teachers. I played for strangers. I expressed the compassion I felt for all of the lives lost, through the music I was chosen, and honored, to play.
I held out the final note until it wavered. Then, I lowered my trumpet and walked out of the office.