A friend contacted me the other day on behalf of a teacher friend who was trying to figure out what to teach this year on 9/11. It was the first class this middle school teacher would have whose kids were born after 9/11 (2002). Funny to think of a whole generation of kids not ever knowing a pre-9/11 world. This teacher wanted to know what she could say to her students.
An interesting question. What do you tell a sixth-grader about 9/11?
My first instinct was to ask my son, but he wasn’t at all helpful. Teenagers are like that. I thought about when he was a first grader, coming into his first true understanding of the magnitude of what happened. It was different for him because he didn’t have the emotional baggage of grief over the loss of his father in quite the same way â€“ he didn’t remember his dad. So for him, the event was a learning exercise, like learning about volcanoes or dinosaurs â€“ both subjects he learned with a vengeance that year.
Out came the Time-Life magazine with all the pictures of the building in various states of destruction including the horrific ones that of course were the ones that fascinated him the most. When he decided to take the magazine to school for show-and-tell one day, I had to warn the teacher not to let him show those pictures. He talked about the height of the buildings, the level at which the planes hit, and a whole range of facts and figures that were what helped him make sense of the senseless. How do you explain to a kid how big an acre-sized floor is?
A middle school teacher might talk about the world before and after, but would even that make sense to a 12 year-old whose world changes on a daily basis both given their age and the fact that they are surrounded by a world that moves at warp speed?
Honestly, “learning” about 9/11 is like my generation learning about Pearl Harbor or the Holocaust. Both horrifying and abstract. We cannot imagine the worlds that existed before such events, we can barely understand the repercussions since those repercussions are all we know.
And yet, there is this obligation that every year at this time we must dust off 9/11, pull out the memorabilia from the Rubbermaid boxes and pass it on to a new generation. Or remember. Or try not to forget. Or learn. Or something. Anything, but forget.
I am told that 60 Minutes ran a piece on Sunday about the memorial museum in NYC and that Arron’s face appears with a group of faces. I haven’t seen it, but I’ve been asked if I sent anything in for the museum, or recorded my kids speaking. I am obviously a crappy 9/11 widow, because I haven’t sent anything in. Nope. I have become completely apathetic about 9/11. Maybe it’s a coping strategy, or maybe it’s that I would prefer not to remember that day in my life. What it has become for me is a day to reflect on how far I’ve come.
I look back with sadness on that woman with two small kids, trying to figure it all out, messily trying to pick up the pieces. I shake my head in awe, wondering how she coped, how she managed to raise those two kids into some pretty awesome almost-adults.
I guess in many ways, 9/11 was a beginning of a new life for all of us. Some of us remember the life that once was, some of us don’t.
Maybe the reality is that it can only be seen by those select few who still remember. To a whole younger generation it will be just another chapter in a history book, an event that gets dragged out year after year, a little more tattered and torn, a little less color each time.
And yet, no matter how tight I try to pack it all away in that Rubbermaid box, for me, as for so many people, this day twelve years ago is a moment seared into our very DNA, indelible.Â It’s one of those blips in history, like Pearl Harbor that I imagine must be so big, it can be seen from space.