September 11, 2001 was 15 years ago. In my estimation, those years seem to have passed quickly. In my young college students’ estimation, that was an awfully long time ago. Indeed, the vast majority of them were in first grade on September 11, 2001.
It is an interesting phenomenon to experience being the older person in a room that carries memories that are now captured in history books. In my lifetime, I have lived through many historic events, from the assassination of JFK to the world’s formal recognition of climate change. A lot happens in 57 years – good and bad; unfortunately, it is the bad that tends to stay seared in one’s memory. I remember registering the importance of JFK’s assassination in my brain at three years old based upon my mother’s reaction. She sobbed as the news was reported on the television and by her reaction an imprint was made. I remember nothing else of my life at that age, but I remember that.
As I talk to my young students, I remind them that they too may find that their memories of such events are based on their parents’ reactions. The horror of 9/11 was a point of demarcation in adults’ lives – there are those days before 9/11 and those days after 9/11. The world as we know it – our safety, our security, our vulnerability – changed irrevocably. But children didn’t likely experience the demarcation adults did, they just added to their growing understanding of the world based primarily on their parents’ reaction. Thus, they cannot steward the memories of 9/11 the same way that adults who lived through it can. They were not there at the cognitive level that adults were when it happened, they do not know how much it shook our country to its core.
We, the adults that remember vividly 15 years later both the horror and humanity of that day, are the ones that must carry the message forward to next generations. We are the ones who must remember the almost 3,000 people lost in the terror attacks of 9/11. We are the ones who must hold on to the ways in which America and her allies came together in sorrow and solidarity. We are the ones who must retell the lessons learned through this unbearable tragedy. We – you and me – are the ones that must serve as stewards of the past.
Students in grade school today will come to know 9/11 as a historical event among so many other historical events. Slowly, over time, the remembrance of this event will be less and less a function of those who can provide a oral history and more a function of the notation of Patriot Day on the calendar. But I urge you in the time you have left on this earth to tell the story of 9/11 to every young person you can and to remind them that there is an obligation for those living in historical moments to add context to what the moment meant by sharing it with future generations that were not there to experience it. In regard to 9/11, we must do more than remember, we must keep the memory alive.
Another day in the new forty – obla di obla da