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September 11, 2008

9/11 is one of those days we remember. Not the day alone, but also other subsequent 9/11s. Of course, I remember the day like it was yesterday. My father yelled down the stairs to the basement (I was homeschooled). He had just gotten off AOL Instant Messenger with a friend who told him that a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Towers. At that point, it was thought that it was accidental.

I leapt up the stairs out of the basement, three steps at a time. I raced my twin brother to the living room. We turned on the TV. I vividly remember thinking, worriedly, “I wonder what channel it will be on.”

It was on all of them. Every last one. And it would continue to be on TV for a week and a half.

Years later, on Sept. 11, 2008, I was walking to my early morning math class at Canisius College. The dew was heavy on the grass and on the hundreds of small American flags that covered the green of the school’s quadrangle in remembrance of the fateful day. The flags were a reminder of great evil and of great bravery.

In class, my calculus teacher, Dr. Terrance Bisson, spoke of functions and the like, fielding questions with swift but artful answers. He was an inspiration to me in so many ways. He always said “Do you agree?” when he responded to a particularly tough question from a student. Of course the beauty in that question was not that Dr. Bisson was opening the floor to speculation, but that he was willing to engage a student’s mind in a way foreign to most mathematics classes.

On that morning and in that mathematics class, on Sept. 11, 2008, Dr. Bisson stopped everything. He stood still as a pillar. He looked off, out the window, toward the North East, holding the short piece of chalk in his hand like a worn pencil. At long last, after a few students’ nervous giggles, he said something I will never forget as long as I live.

“When I was teaching a few minutes ago. I heard some bells. You may have heard them. Did you hear them?”

Silence.

“Well I heard them. I heard the ringing even when my back was turned and I was talking. I hear the bells every year on this day. You see, I love math because it is its own world. It’s a beautiful world, one that I hope you grow to love. It is a place free of pain, free of sadness. It’s not like our world at all. The bells reminded me of that just now.”

Dr. Bisson stopped. The whole room also stopped at that moment; at least it did for me. He looked back at us and out the window once more, as if he were seeing a friend off. He turned his back to us and started writing on the board, checking off his own calculations, his white hair shining against the morning sun.

“As we see, in this case, (½)x-½ is to be read as. . . .”

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