Preface: This post was originally written on September 11, 2015 on my old WordPress blog and is reposted here by me today May 23, 2016.
Every year since the eleventh of September 2001 we have taken then time to remember that moment forever frozen in infamy. I can remember exactly where I was—doing community service in a bad part of town as punishment for my chalked ID—as most people alive on that day can, but I’m a teacher now and I teach teenagers, children, some of whom were born a year after that event and only understand it conceptually, much like we—my generation—understood the assassination of JFK or the bombing of Pearl Harbor conceptually.
I can remember listening to the radio in my calm and flippant manner thinking it was some kind of a prank. “This has got to be a joke” I thought to myself, “This kind of stuff doesn’t happen here.” But, the next channel on the radio was saying similar things, then people began talking about news footage of the first tower in flames. Soon after it became harder and harder to call our loved ones. I remember watching the news and in rapt suspense, terror, and awe waiting to see if the second building was going to fall, then the first. I remember the sense of camaraderie and national pride permeating the country for the weeks immediately following the attack. It was so nice to see people going out of their way for one another, to see everyone helping and supporting their neighbors and strangers alike. Despite my anger at the tragedy that had befallen my fellow Americans and the lose suffered by so many, I felt happy and proud of our ability to come together and, well, love one another in the midst of event fueled by so much hate.
My middle school students today, have no concept of any of this. They have as much attachment to this event as I did to the assassination of JFK. I understand that it was bad. I understand it touched so many people deeply. I understand the idea of the hope that he represented being ripped away from so many. I even understand the psychological idea that relates to the loss of one’s king as a loss of a protector, father figure, and unifying force. But, I also understand how my cell phone works and if you left me on a deserted island there’s no way I can make one and call you. I simply lack the experience needed to take the abstract concept and make it concrete and tangible.
9/11 for most of these middle school students is just another holiday so to speak. I heard a student say “Again? We do this every year.” So, with that I ask what do we speak about when we speak about 9/11? What are we remembering and why?
The terrorists’ hijacking the planes, and flying them into the Twin Towers, and the Pentagon are obvious I think. But, we can focus on the hatred and anger brimming over from those radical Islamic groups or we can look at the human aspect of all of this.
Our Heroes: The heroic men and women who ran into burning and collapsing/collapsed buildings to save the lives of complete strangers. Those heroes who tossed their lives in action that day, who died years later due to exposure to chemicals at Ground Zero (my Uncle being one of them), and those who are still alive today and still smell the burning flesh of the victims or see the dead bodies and their limbs spread all over the rubble (my father and many close friends included). Each one of these individuals has or had a family who loves/loved them. A lot of them are still suffering because of their innate love of people, their need to protect, their humanity drove them into danger when instinct told them to stay away. I think this is humanity at its most noble. We should do more for these noble protectors than we have done. But, at the very least let us remember their sacrifice and talk about what it took to do what they did and how they’ve been effected by their time down at Ground Zero. Let us never forget our heroes and the physical, mental, and spiritual sacrifices they made.
Lovers: We so often forget the star-crossed lovers destined to be parted by the events of that day. The new lovers and the old, the fiancees planning their weddings or just about to be married or the couples married for 10, 20, 30, 40, or 50 plus years and the poorly connected phone calls made to attempt to say a lifetimes worth of I love yous in a fraction of a moment. Or those who could not get through and who left their last words in a voicemail to be played by their surviving partner for years to come. Let us never forget those lovers lost to the flames of war.
Families: Those families who were ripped apart suddenly and unjustly by an angry family of radical zealots whose hatred of all things American blinded them to the fact that they were committing the same atrocities they blame America for. We need to remember the fathers who never got to take their sons or daughters to their first baseball game. To the moms who never got to teach their daughters to put on make up. To the daughters who won’t have their father their to see them marry the person they love. To the sons who will never have their father there to model the strength needed to raise a family. Or, to just sit around on the couch and watch a movie and argue over who finished the popcorn. Families, whether biological (or not) are what make our lives richer. They are the life blood of every culture, or nation and on that day so many were irreparably damaged. Let us never forget those families sundered.
Innocence: Up until that day our country had never really been the focus of such a devastating act of violence. We had been in wars, but since the country was founded we had only fought the Civil War on American soil. All other wars had been fought abroad. Our isolation from the rest of the major world powers had kept us protected for most of the 825 years prior that day from such attacks save Pearl Harbor, but that was a military base, this was a civilian economic center. Before that day many people believed that we lived in a rosey world understanding that terrorist and bad things happened but never experiencing it, but on that day it all changed. Most of America lost its innocence. Let us never forget the innocence we once had and how it was stolen from us without our consent.
Perhaps if we remember these things and teach our children the human aspect of that event along with the history we can truly do justice those those loved ones lost that fateful day, September the 11th 2001.