Background 4.27.11

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Ten years ago, on September 11th, 2001, I was a freshman at Mount Holyoke College. I had just gotten out of my biology lecture and climbed the four flights of stairs to my dorm room in Brigham Hall, preparing to relax a little before bio lab that afternoon. I switched on my nineteen inch t.v. to watch something I'd taped the day before (yes, this was waaaay before DVR and back in the days of the VCR, and turned on my laptop to check my email. When my internet browser came up, I was confronted by images of terrorists attacking the World Trade Center. Planes crashing into tall buildings? Is this a joke? I thought to myself. I stopped the VHS tape I had just started in my VCR and switched on the news. Of course, it didn't matter what station I put the t.v. on...every channel was either broadcasting a live feed of the smoking buildings and the aftermath or replays of what had happened less than an hour earlier.

I sat there, horrified, my eyes riveted to the television screen. It was unbelievable in the worst way imaginable. It seemed so senseless and so unfair. Travelers on the planes died just through chance died for choosing that flight on that particular day. People had jumped out of buildings, frantic to escape the fate terrorists had decided for them. Rescuers had died trying to save those who were trapped in the buildings. I remember thinking that the people who were in the Twin Towers that day were just going through their normal, everyday routine; they headed to work and were just getting started with their day when this unimaginable horror happened. I kept thinking that they never expected to die when they went to work that day, just the same way that I would never expect to die going to my job in my dorm's dining hall. These were people who had mothers, fathers, brothers, friends...just like me.

One of the new college friends I had made about two weeks prior to September 11th was a native New Yorker who used to walk past the towers every day on her way to Stuyvesant High School. She was, in every sense of the word, traumatized by this event even more personally than I could ever be. Terrorists had attacked my homeland, but they had attacked her home. Seeing the 9/11 attack through her eyes and helping her cope with the emotional aftermath made me realize just how horrific it was, especially to New Yorkers. Seeing how the attacks affected Mariel made it personal to me in a way that I can't really explain. When we got back from a short break a couple of weeks later, I remember telling Mariel that when I went home, my father had cut down a huuuuuge pine tree that had always been in our backyard growing up...that it looked incredibly strange to me because it seemed like our yard was somehow empty even though that was the only thing that was missing. She told me that that was exactly what it felt like to go home to NYC and not see the Towers, and that she felt like I at least partially understood what she was feeling.

Ten years later, I still remember these details. We were all worried that another attack was imminent, that it would happen again without warning, just like the first time. Instinctively, I just wanted to go home and be with my family, but that was about nine hours away and I had no transportation. I was incredibly saddened and frightened that the attack had happened, and I had the overwhelming feeling that life in our country would never be the same because it now seemed possible that something like that could happen again. I remember how uncertain life had suddenly felt like anything could happen at any moment, especially in the days right after the attack.After I became a second grade teacher a few years ago and realized that my little seven- and eight-year-olds had no clue what September 11th was, I made it a personal mission to educate them on this event in an age-appropriate way. Of course they couldn't personally remember something that happened when they were infants (or later on, I taught students who hadn't even been born yet...made me feel old lol). And of course I didn't want to scare the bejezus out of them but I felt so strongly that it was something that must be remembered. So, we started out discussing what they knew, which was horrifyingly little...I remember thinking that it was a shame that most of them had never heard about it (even just a mention that it was an attack on our country...not expecting a huge amount of knowledge or thinking it was necessary to know details at such a young age). When I found The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, I knew that this would be a great way to introduce 9/11 to them. For four years, I read the book to them and watched this video of him walking between the towers...and we talked about how horrible it would be for someone to attack our country and kill innocent people in doing so. As I read the story of Philippe Petit, a bit of an attention freak and free-thinker who decided to (illegally) walk a tightrope strung between the Twin Towers, the kids were drawn in and making predictions about whether he'd make it. The last page mentions that the towers are no longer there...and the kids naturally ask, "Why?!?" That would lead into an age-appropriate discussion of the attacks in which I told them the basic facts of what had happened that day and showed them photos of some of the destruction. Of course, they naturally asked why anyone would do something like that, and showed at least a shadow of the emotions that we were all feeling that day...disbelief, horror, shock, and sadness. Though I would never want to scare my students, I always felt (rather sadly) that I had accomplished my personal mission to have this day remembered by the younger generation. Now that I teach high school Spanish, I hope that there's another teacher in the elementary school who is exposing the little ones to the memory of that day.Yesterday, I was at a National Guard family picnic with my husband and kids...and I became instantly angry to see that one of my husband's fellow Guardsmen was wearing a shirt saying, "Everything I need to know about Islam, I learned on 9/11/2001." I understand that men who serve our country are patriots, and that's a good thing. But being a patriot does not mean being a bigot. People like that are the reason relations between countries and religions are so tense. I would compare this level of ignorance and intolerance to someone being killed by a drunk driver that happens to be a blonde and then proclaiming that all blondes are drunks and killers. Ugh. Obviously, from my post above you know that I would never support this attack or the reasons that the terrorists had for attacking our country, but I feel strongly that you cannot label an entire group of people based on what a very small percentage of those people did, no matter how horrific. The truth is that people perpetrated this, not their religion or their god. Stop the hate, but remember.

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Kristin said...

Thank you for writing this. I had never heard of that book, though I have seen the documentary. I'm going to check it out of the library and continue to talk to our kids about this.

I loved what you said about the other issue also. It is so true. We still have to love.

Thank you for your commitment to educating the next generation on this.

Also thank that man of yours for everything he has done in serving our country. We are so grateful.

Ashley said...

Glad that someone reads me :) I love that book, so I hope you find it a great springboard for talking to your kiddos about the attack in a kid-friendly way.