I was sitting in class with my students this morning filling in today’s date on their test booklets, when a student asked,
“Do you remember 9/11? ”
I was briefly taken aback. Of course I remember that fateful September day eleven years ago, but I realized the students in my class were only two years old on September 11, 2001. It was another reminder of how many events I have lived through in my own lifetime.
There are always major events, both good and bad, that define a generation. The greatest generation remembered Lindbergh’s flight and Pearl Harbor. My parent’s could recall where they were when President Kennedy was assassinated. I remember landing on the moon, and the twin tragedies: Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King’s deaths within weeks of each other.
I’m old enough to remember those events, but I didn’t understand their significance. The first time a national tragedy really rocked my world was the Challenger explosion in 1986. I was horrified, and greatly saddened by the event.
9/11 was heart stopping on so many levels. Watching events unfold literally in front of my eyes, while our everyone around us was reeling with shock, confusion and chaos filled me with fear. As the planes hit their targets, I remember having the sense of the world ending. I had three children; two were at school, and I just wanted to go grab them from their classrooms.
The whole day was surreal, like a Twilight Zone episode. Except after thirty minutes, Rod Serling would not appear on the screen to calmly reassuring us that this madness only happens in “another dimension.”
It drove home exactly what we fear as parents: that the world isn’t as safe as we want to believe, and we cannot protect our kids from all evil and harm. My strongest desire as the day progressed was to gather my children close to me. At the same time, I wanted my own parents to take me into the shelter of their arms, and reassure me that they would keep me safe.
The students listened as I told them where I was, and what I was doing the day that time stood still. It’s a defining moment for our generation. The students may be too young to remember, but I know that like our grandparents remembered Pearl Harbor, we will never forget September 11, 2001.