Eight years ago today, I was student teaching in an Upstate New York middle school classroom. I was working with 8th graders, and it was early in the morning. One of my students approached me at the start of second period and asked if I had heard about the bombings in NYC. I looked at him incredulously because he had already established himself as a “story teller” ever though we had only been in school for a week or so. Out of concern, my supervising teacher had me go to the back of the room to the classroom computer and investigate what he was talking about. As soon as I powered on the computer and logged onto the internet, I realized that the world as I knew it had changed.
I stared at a screen that was filled with horrible images of burning American icons and headlines screaming “Attack on America!” As the towers fell, my heart followed. I grew up in a very patriotic home. My father is a Vietnam veteran. My brother is a Gulf War veteran. Various grandfathers and uncles have served in the military and in various wars. All served proudly and voluntarily. For the daughter of such patriotism, these scenes burned into my memory and are still vivid today. This was my home state and my home soil. I knew then that everything that our nation held sacred had been torn apart. But, despite all of this, I knew that I was a teacher (well, almost) and must remain professional and level. My supervising teacher lost her cool after she heard the news (I tend to remain much more stable and cool under pressure), and it fell upon my shoulders to discuss the terrorist attacks with my students.
After lunch, I read to my students the school-issued statement that was supposed to reassure and calm them. I remember feeling angry and frustrated with my 8th graders because they didn’t really seem to care about what had happened. When I told them what had happened, they didn’t really seem to “get it.” Looking back, I realize now that they really were too young to fully comprehend and “get” what had happened. They were too young to realize that the world in which they lived in safety and security had completely changed at that exact moment. Gone were the days of ID-free plane rides and willy-nilly airline ticket swapping. Gone were the days of never jumping to senseless racial stereotypes and irrational hasty assumptions about people based on their heritage and culture. But, these kids had never really experienced those things to begin with. After all, they were barely teenagers. They lived in safe little cocoons in their small Upstate NY town where they never had to worry about anything. I envied them.
Today, eight years later, was so different. I am now a CA teacher and work with an amazing group of 6th graders. We spent our day learning to trust each other and work together as a team. We all leapt off a tall tower to speed down a zip line over a lake. We built shelters in the woods to provide us a dry place to sleep should it rain (although the skies were absolutely beautiful today … much like that fateful morning 8 years ago). The experience today held no hint of those terrifying and life-changing moments almost a decade ago. I sadly realized that all of these students that I enjoy so much have never lived in a pre-9/11 world. Their world has always involved war and terrorist alert levels and racial anxiety (save the three or four years when they were just wee toddlers). Despite this, they’ve maintained innocence and wonder. They laugh and find joy in everything. They don’t miss the “old” days because they never really knew them. To me, that is sad. But, I guess that you don’t miss what you’ve never had. And that’s better than the alternative.
So, on this somber anniversary, I take a moment to remember. Remember the innocents who lost their lives all those years ago. Remember the brave heroes who selflessly rushed into collapsing infernos to save whatever lives they could. Remember all of the soldiers who have volunteered and who have lost their lives and limbs since the wars began. Remember those who still mourn. Remember those who keep the memory alive.