On a beautiful September morning I went to school to teach my high school students. During second hour our principal’s voice came over the intercom and directed us to turn on the TVs in our classrooms. Something was happening, but no one knew what. My class full of eleventh graders met in a computer lab, and we all watched in horror as the world Trade Center burned. We knew that people were inside the building, and as we listened to the reporters speculate on what had happened and discuss whether the plane that had hit the tower was a private plane or a jet, the second airliner hit the South Tower. I gasped and so did many other students in the room. Our mouths fell open. For a moment all was silent, and then everyone started talking at once. As we watched, the cameras panned to the first tower which showed people jumping out the windows.
My students became visibly upset, and one of them, Elysia, ran from the room. I went after her and hugged her and tried to comfort her the best I could, but I was filled with anger and also fear and sadness. I felt an enormous responsibility to care for my students and also an overwhelming desire to be home with my husband and my own children hugging them tight. I felt anger at whoever had done this and fear that our country would soon go to war. I knew, as did my students, something was terribly wrong.
That beautiful September morning was twelve years ago today. I am teaching for the second time in my career at the school where I taught the day we were attacked. Since that day is etched in my memory, I couldn’t allow the day to pass without some comment and discussion with my students. When we started talking about the events of 9/11, however, I realized they have no memory of the events of that day. They were only three years old. For them September 11, 2001, is history. For many of us it lives on. That struck me, and I truly didn’t know what to think. I was saddened they were not affected by the memories of that time as I was, but also gladdened by their lack of memory. I never wanted to see the look of heartbreak and fear I saw in Elysia’s eyes in the eyes of another child again. Terrorism for my students today is just a fact of their lives, an inconvenience, something discussed on the news. But for me 9/11 was the event that changed my world and not something I’ll ever regard as “normal.”
As I have grown older, I have learned how precious and fleeting our years here on earth are and I appreciate my time with my friends and family. I wanted to tell my students not to take for granted their family and friends and to live each day as though it were their last because it might be. I wanted to impart what little wisdom I have acquired over the years, to tell them that they should truly live each day and never allow anyone to take away their freedom, but I kept my own counsel. I wondered if perhaps their lack of memory of 9/11 protected them somehow, preserved their innocence and peace, the way children are supposed to live their lives. Perhaps.
I’m not suggesting we should ever forget that beautiful, terrible September day. We shouldn’t. It would dishonor the memory of those we lost in that great tragedy. Those of us old enough to remember never will forget. That day is seared into the memory of all who witnessed it. We can never go back to the way America was before 9/11, but perhaps in the eyes of our nation’s children we can glimpse a piece of that lost innocence and peace and remember when.