It's hard to believe that it's been 10 years...the day that America lost its innocence again. I remember everything that happened that day, down to tiny details that pale in comparison to the awfulness of the tragedy, but I can just close my eyes and re-live everything as if it just happened yesterday. I was half a country away, in the heartland here where I live, and yet I also sat in disbelief and shock at the loss of so many of my countrymen's lives.
I was teaching at a small, rural school. My first year as a teacher. I was the band teacher, and my students and I were outside practicing, so we never heard the initial news. When my next class came in, they asked me if I had seen the news that morning...I thought, "What an odd question..." but told them to get out their books and we went to work on their first major project. I didn't go to lunch because I had to get my gear together to go down to the elementary school for my beginning band class. When I arrived, the elementary music teacher asked me if I had heard what happened when the planes hit the twin towers. I hid a grin as I asked, "No, what happened?" I was positive she was giving me the straight line for a joke. I mean, who uses planes to hit a famous building?" Then I looked at her face...and felt the blood rush from my face as I realized she was telling me news, not a new joke. I spent the rest of the day in a daze. I spent my afternoon teaching middle school, and they let us spend 7th hour watching the news. I had a 7th grade study hall, and we just sat in disbelief. One girl asked, "Miss C, who would do this thing?". I started naming countries in the middle east that were known terrorist hotspots, and even mentioned bin Laden. The boys were upset that the school cancelled their first football game. I told them that everything in America had been cancelled that night. I remember telling them to ride the school bus home and then hug their moms tight, say a prayer for the families of those who were lost, and to not complain because we were spared.
I remember as if it were yesterday...the same way my parents remember the day Kennedy was assassinated, and my grandma remembers Pearl Harbor. Those moments stick with you. I never could quite understand how they felt about those events, but I knew that they were honored memories, ones that shouldn't be messed with, disrespected, or tossed aside. I know they prayed that their children and grandchildren would be spared the horror that a defining tragedy brings, such as I pray the same for my students. It is a horrible thing to see innocence ripped away in a moment such as that.
Which is why it is even more upsetting to me that we have teens today who seem to think that 9-11 is no big deal. I saw one young lady (via a friend's comment) who said, "What's the big deal about today. The planes crashed, people died. Get over it already." It felt like a punch to the gut. What kind of generation are we raising? Where is the respect for others' memories? For grief? For the significance of such an event?
I do not expect them to have the same reaction as me. They were too little to understand how vastly our world changed on that day. But just as I don't understand the Kennedy assassination, or the "Day that lived in Infamy", I still respect the loss of life and the feelings of those who personally went through it. I have empathy for those who lost everything on those days. It saddens me so much to see such a callousness in our younger generation. We have lost our empathy, our sense of respect for our elders, our...I can't even describe it except to say that it was like a knife to the gut to read that thought from a young person. I have studied my history---I know that those who do not understand their history are doomed to repeat it, and I don't ever want to repeat that day 10 years ago.
So where were you 10 years ago? And how can we get our students to understand that this wasn't "just a day"? And that it was R-E-A-L and not a video game or something that happened half a world away? And that there is a reason to "never forget"? And that it wasn't some vast conspiracy by our own government, but evil perpetrated by evil people? And that evil people continue to exist and seek to do us harm?
I don't know answers to these questions, I only know that in my corner of the world I can educate my students and make sure that they understand. I cannot save the world, but I can shine a light in my corner and make the darkness go away through the light of my life. It may not be much on its own, but I hope that others will join with me to light the darkness and drive away apathy, and hatred, and irreverence, and disdain.