Fifteen years. A decade and a half.
College. Odd jobs and a career. A marriage to a veteran. Two houses–one home. Three children. Two miscarriages. Two cats. Grocery trips. Endless nights nursing. Insurance. Dishes and laundry and books, oh my.
Over the course of fifteen years, I somehow became an adult.
I now balance our budget; engage in lightsaber battles with “five-and-a-half” year olds; attend games and practice, practice and games night after night. I drive a minivan… and… I am okay with it – actually, I love my van (really, I do).
But fifteen years ago, I was still a kid. Sure, I was a Senior in high school cramming friends into a convertible in every season; I clearly knew it all. You couldn’t tell me anything that I didn’t already know. I had the world figured out. I was quite in control of my destiny, thank you very much. So, as I listened to The Dandy Warhols, sifted through my thrift-store-bought wardrobe, and read my Douglas Coupland novels about Generation X (all instead of reading The Heart of Darkness), I never saw myself for what I really was.
I have a heavy dose of pride that I fight daily; of course, back then, humility was likely not even in my vocabulary. I was selfish and inconsiderate. Day after day, I actively “put off” those tendencies, but they still manage to seep through. Imagine what damage I caused as a self-absorbed, heady teen.
It is not surprising, then, that my memories of the morning of 9/11 are of ME. The negatives of my memory are faded and burned in a lot of places. So I get only snippets before the reels tangle: There is a quick scene of me in a psychology classroom of other seniors. We’re shocked, confused staring at the boxy television mounted to the wall. Someone announces that the school district has decided to turn the TVs off. I’m mad at the administration–“fight the power”. Another scene barely forms of me sitting in front of my art teacher’s computer sneaking peaks at the unfolding terror. More glimpses of students being picked up early from school. But I remember mostly thinking about how this affected me.
Truthfully, it didn’t. I didn’t know anyone in New York or on a plane. My mom worked for Delta, but we were in Cincinnati; and to my righteous high-school-self, nothing ever happened in Cincinnati, so I need not fear. Because of this separation, I didn’t really think about it much–even thought the skies were quiet and there were photos and videos everywhere I looked.
Days afterward, I was angry.
Not at terrorists, whatever that meant. Not at Osama bin-Laden. But at Americans. I was angry with people that called this place home.
People who have always had the freedom–and the right–to wave Old Glory, but chose not to… until 9/11.
I was upset by how patriotic everyone had become.
I was angered by “God Bless America” being stamped onto milk jugs and the christening of Freedom Fries.
Where did we get the nerve?
Honestly, where did I get the nerve? Who did I really think I was? It wasn’t until years later that I took the time to understand that thousands of people lost their lives that day. Families said goodbye for the last time and buried loved ones; but so many more–mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, children–had nothing to lay to rest.
How heartless of me to not think of a single one of them for so many years?
I don’t know what made me do it. I don’t know if it was because I was married, or had children of my own. Maybe it was because I was a teacher and I wanted to make sure that my students, who weren’t even alive in 2001, heard a retelling of the atrocities of that day. Whatever it was, I was finally humbled to the core.
So here we are, fifteen years after that morning. I’m grown up, my kids are in bed, my husband is sleeping, the cat is wide awake. We have work and school in just a few hours, and life goes on. I think about how the catchphrase fifteen years ago was “We will never forget”. They say that grief is about living one moment at a time without whatever or whoever it is we’ve lost. How many moments have we lived? And how have we lived them? Yes, the mundane takes over and the routines overwhelm; but can we still be compassionate? Can we still impart wisdom and understanding into minds that so easily focus inward? I think we can. As parents and teachers, it is not only possible, but I suggest it is necessary.
Here are just a few ways to keep the memory of that day alive as the rising generation knows this day only as something in our nation’s past–no different than “Vietnam” or “The Jazz Age”.
- Give yourself permission to reflect: So often we don’t allow ourselves time to think about what things mean. We need that time to process what is happening around us. Perhaps, like me, you haven’t given those lives much thought. I know that sounds terrible; but let’s face it, we’re all a little selfish. And when it isn’t in our faces anymore, it isn’t in the forefront of our minds–we’ve moved on. We get hit by so much bad news so often, that we don’t truly allow enough time to sort through the news. Revisit that morning in your mind and think about it from a new angle.
- Visit a memorial: This year, I’m taking my own children to the Northern Kentucky 9/11 Memorial in Crescent Springs, KY. This memorial, complete with an I-beam from one of the towers, was dedicated last year. The sculpture is of the Twin Towers on a pentagon. It honors, not only civilians, but also firefighters, police officers, the airline industry, and the government workers within the Pentagon. This reminds me of the quote from Mr. Rogers to always look for thehelpers.
- Read books: Check out your local library or bookstore to see what they have for your kids. The genre of post-9/11 books is extensive. (Disclosure:: Cincinnati Moms Blog is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising. The following book links redirect to amazon.com.)
- Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin is a quick Young Adult read. It is about four teens from different parts of the country in the two days leading up to the terrorist attacks. Their stories weave between time zones and cultures to share how the nation felt united after the plot to separate us.
- Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes is another Young Adult book. This one is about a homeless girl, Deja, who lives in a shelter with her overworked and exhausted mother, her sick father, and younger brother and sister. She has to start a new school, but with the help of her friends Ben and Sabeen she learns much about 9/11, her community, and her family. This was a powerful read that takes place today, fifteen years after the attacks and asks the question, “what does this have to do with me? I wasn’t even alive.” Excellent read.
- America Is Under Attack: September 11, 2001: The Day the Towers Fell (Actual Times) by Don Brown is a children’s book with realistic illustrations that don’t gloss over what happened in 2001. If you aren’t ready to open up honestly with your children about the events of that day, I would shy away from opening the cover of this book. These pages are real and gripping and may be too much for very young ones. You know your children.
- On That Day: A Book of Hope for Children (Reading Rainbow Book) by Andrea Patel is a Reading Rainbow Book. In few words, with minimal art, this book touches the subject with gentle hands. It will comfort and inspire children. As parents and readers, be sure to add to this as needed. This book goes an extra step to challenge children to make a difference in the world around them.
- Do Not Be Sad – A Chronicle Of Healing published by Welcome Enterprises is a compilation of children’s letters and drawings sent to the firemen of New York. These words and images will resonate with kids since they are created by youngsters. It is heartbreaking, as adults to see these renderings in crayon and phonics. There are prayers, gratitude, and interpretations included in these letters and artwork sent after 9/11 from across America to Engine 24 Ladder 5 FDNY. Be prepared to still explain planes crashing into buildings.
- Pray: We can ever stop praying for victims of this event, for our nation, for our world. There are bad people out there who want to do bad things; but by grace, there is also good. Pray for comfort and encouragement. Pray for wisdom and discernment. Pray for opportunities to minister to one another. Pray for boldness to follow through when those windows open.
- Practice Gratitude: Being thankful is one of the best ways to get happy. When you can go through and list three to five things that you’re truly grateful for, you’ll feel the corners of your mouth turn up at the very least. Try to do that today–start with three things you appreciate, then add more if you can.
- Random Act of Kindness: When you’re happy, others around you can smile, too. Try to be nice to others today. Do something kinder than necessary. Get out of your comfort zone and serve people, no matter how small the act.
- Donate Blood: Hoxworth Blood Center states on their website that “blood recipients at the 31 hospitals in our Tri-State area rely on the generosity of others who donate their time and life-saving blood to provide the minimum 300 units of blood needed.” What better way to give of yourself?