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11 September 2012

Honoring what has become history

I woke up this morning and realized that, once again, September 11th had snuck into the calendar, ticking off another year since the greatest single tragedy on American soil. 11 years have passed. More than a decade. I resolved not to blog about it or tweet about it or Facebook about it but instead honor it in a more quiet and personal way. I still struggle with this day, but, like with most tragedies, it gets easier each year. But when I arrived in my classroom, my mind changed.

This year marks the first year that none of my students were alive when the towers fell. Last year was hard because it was the 10th anniversary, and most of my students were only infants when it happened. But this year is different. This year my students view 9/11 simply as a historical event, something that they read about in a history book that they have no real connection to. It doesn't carry the weight and significance that is has every year prior. In fact, the student news broadcast this morning didn't even mention the towers falling or the attack on the Pentagon or the heroes that died in that Pennsylvania field. The "this day in history" fact was reserved to recognize O. Henry's birthday. I don't fault them, but it does indicate that things have changed dramatically. For me. For the world. For this generation of kids. A decade has passed. Time keeps moving. People move on.

Today, the event that shaped my adult life and changed this nation and the world forever is simply a brief section in a history textbook for my students. The emotional significance and cultural importance of these events have faded to lines on a page with a few patriotic and heart wrenching photos. The way my current students speak of the events of that day is markedly different than the way students in previous years have. Their comments are far less solemn and serious. There is a lightness and casualness in their tones that reinforces how removed they are from it all. I'm not judging my students by any means; they just weren't alive to understand the impact that those events had on their lives. American life in 2012 is normal for them. This is the way it has always been. There is no "I remember before 9/11 ..." for them. Their entire lives have always been post-9/11, and they know nothing different. In some ways, I'm jealous of that innocence. Life is different now, but they don't know it.

It's hard to describe how it feels to know that the events that molded you and changed you so dramatically has passed into the annals of history. It makes me feel old that I've experienced history that my students will only passively learn about. It makes me sad that almost an entire generation has passed by since that tragically beautiful autumn afternoon and that generation will never know a nation of trust or even "friendly" skies.

I struggle to find the right words for how I feel about this anniversary and this tragedy, and sometimes it's just best to leave it be. But I know that, for this New Yorker, that day will never be forgotten.

Flag flying over Fort Sumter
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