Today one of my students said to me, “Hey, you know what tomorrow is, right? It’s 9/11.” Another pipped and said, “Yeah, can you take us to NY to see the site?” I didn’t know what to say and it hit me. They were so young. 4, maybe 5 years old and they hear about 9/11 but they don’t get it.
They don’t remember an America were jobs were seemingly abundant and the middle class was strong (we could argue this points but let’s not). They don’t know the feeling that they live in the greatest country ever and every one loves us. The don’t understand the terror of not being able to get a hold of your loved ones and not knowing if everyone was alive. Sure, they have read about 9/11. Maybe they know someone who was killed or maybe they vaguely remember the video footage and chaos but they don’t remember a world pre-attacks.
I was 18 when 9/11 occurred. I had no clue what had happened and had just gotten out of class and tried to call my mother. Confused why my cell phone wouldn’t go through, I shoved my phone in my pocket and proceeded to walk back to my dorm. I can remember the blue of the sky with the white, fluffy clouds and the cool touch of an Upstate NY fall like it was yesterday. I was happy and it was a BEAUTIFUL day. When I walked through my into my room, everything changed.
“You need to call your parents. America’s been attacked and they hit DC.”
Those words, spoken by my roommate, will be burned into my brain for the rest of my life. I will never forgot the fear or desperation as I tried to call my family. I thought, for one hour, that I was an orphan. At this time, I didn’t know the Pentagon had been hit. I didn’t know about the WTC or the plane in Pennsylvania. All I knew was we were under attack. As the facts started to come, I learned my parents were ok. We spent the night watching the footage, staring in shock as people jumped form the towers, crying during Bush’s address and living with the fear that more attacks would come tomorrow.
I don’t think our country has ever been the same since that day. For me and my generation, it was an end to our innocence. As reports started to pour in about friends and friends-of-friends who had been on one of the plans or in one of the buildings, we learned the fragility of life.
How do I explain that Tuesday? As we approach this Tuesday September 11, how do you make your students understand? It wasn’t just a sad day in American history or a site that’s fun to visit. It was a day that shocked the country, changed the country, and started an economic downfall that they will inherit.