Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Day of Remembering

This morning when I hassled all the kids out to the car they were delighted to see a flag on our front yard. This happens on select days of the year, compliments of our local Boy Scout troop.

For the kids this is a joyful occasion, since anything bright, large, colorful, and blowing in the breeze--on your very own front lawn--is reason to celebrate. President's Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day--each one is an excuse for my darlings to dance around the flag pole and comment enthusiastically all day long. They've recently figured out that there is a method to the madness, and so on each magical day that the flag appears they ask me why we are "celebrating."

When Grace innocently posed the question today I was stuck. The only thing I could think was that awful moment when I watched a plane fly into the second tower, watched the first and then the second tower fall from the safety of my living room, in the comfort of my pajamas, knowing that nothing would ever feel truly safe or comfortable again.

How do you explain that to a little girl who wasn't even born, who hasn't known anything different than this post-9/11 world she inherited?

Tonight as I taught my latest crop of bright young thinkers someone offhandedly made a comment about hoping that 9/11 would soon become a 'real' holiday so we could have the day off and actually celebrate it. I was surprised by the vehemence of my own reaction.

It's not a day to celebrate. Ever. On this one issue I actually agree with George W. It's a day of remembrance.

I know the arguments. We combat terrorism by going forward with life, even celebrating survival and resilience, the human spirit and the greatness of America. We celebrate our unique American culture by wallowing in commercialism and running up our credit cards and eating too much and lighting lots of dangerous explosives that look really cool. Celebrating lets us thumb our noses at those who tried to knock us down but only made us stronger.

I know the arguments; I just don't agree with them.

A few days ago a colleague sent me a provocative article on how digital media is influencing the learning and thinking patterns of young students. Embedded in the article was the idea for a 'wonderful' virtual reality game that would simulate concentration camp experiences so that students could learn about the Holocaust in a powerful way, without even realizing that they were learning about it because it was all in a game.

My gut response was that some things just aren't meant to be games. In that same vein, some things just aren't meant to be celebrated.

Every September 11 I remember. I remember that hate and intolerance carry a high price, and very often innocent people pay that price. I remember that this country has a remarkable potential to come together when we need to, and an unmatched capacity for compassion. I remember stories of heroism and selflessness. I remember lists of names on the television screen. I remember unending photos of people who were loved, prayed for, and desparately missed.

I cried when I watched the towers come down. All I could think--and not very coherently--was how many thousands of families would never forget this day, would have it seared into their hearts and woven throughout the reality of their lives in ways that I can barely imagine.

The least that I can do each September 11 is remember.

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