By Cindy Adams
In the years immediately following 9/11, on the anniversary of that tragic day, my students and I would talk about where we all had been, how we had heard the news and what our fears and reactions had been.
We could all remember every detail of how the world had changed, how there seemed to be a dividing line of before and after, how inconceivable it seemed that such tragedy was unfolding so near to us and yet the sky was a perfect blue overhead. It was all so immediate and raw.
We talked about jammed phone lines and endless replays of video footage and remembered how we had all stocked up on duct tape and bottled water and lived in such fear for awhile.
As the years went by, my students would describe different things, memorable moments that maybe they hadn’t understood at the time.
The kids who were 10 years old on 9/11 would say things like, “I remember we couldn’t go to the mall.” Or, “I remember we were afraid to trick-or-treat.” The kids who were 5, could perhaps describe brief snapshots of memory that only made sense to them as they got older: “I remember my dad picking me up early from kindergarten and hugging me really hard.” Or, “My mom told me later that she let us watch the ‘Aladdin’ tape over and over because she didn’t want us to see anything bad on TV by mistake.”
Talking with my students this year about 9/11, I will say similar things as I have said in recent years. About how in 2001 they were the little ones, the infants their families had held tightly and prayed over; that they were the ones peeked in on more often in the middle of the night; that every grown-up wondered what kind of a world these children would grow up in. And how the magnificence of ordinary days of hurrying for the bus and rushing to football practice after school and getting ready for the welcome-back dance did not seem like guarantees back then.
Days like today are ones we dreamed of, days we grown-ups weren’t sure would come again. But we prayed that the world would be safe and beautiful for them.
To my current juniors, 9/11 has always been a reality. They don’t remember a world before it, just like I (born in 1970) don’t remember a world without a moon landing or Vietnam.
This year’s freshmen were born after 9/11, evidence of their parents’ faith and dreams come true – the literal embodiment of all of our hopes.
Talking about 9/11 every year with students I hardly know yet helps to remind me – and, I hope, will remind them – that life is a gift, and terrible times reveal the important things. Ordinary days are filled with blessings, small joys that we once wondered if we would ever experience again. 9/11 has become a day of remembering and taking stock and giving thanks.
Alan Jackson’s beautiful song asks, “Where were you when the world stopped turning on that September day?” No matter where we were on 9/11, we will always remember how suddenly our love for our ordinary lives, our families, our community and our country deepened.
Maybe it’s not so strange after all that my students don’t remember life before 9/11. Maybe it’s wonderful that they live in a world where those of us who remember the day like it was yesterday do not take our everyday lives for granted anymore.