Whether you were at home or in an office, the news was devastating. Whether you saw them as they happened or later on video tape, the sights of an airplane slamming into the World Trade Center and people jumping to their deaths were horrific. The view of the Pentagon in flames took one's breath away. The smoldering crash scene in a field in rural Pennsylvania inspired speculation of what must have happened on that ill–fated flight — and the additional tragedies that may have been prevented.
It is hard to believe that was eight years ago today.
But it was.
And I'm beginning to experience a feeling I have had before.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, my mother was killed in a flash flood in May 1995. She was a first–grade teacher. At the time of her death, I recall a great deal of praise coming from her colleagues and the parents of her students. I remember seeing pictures in the local newspaper of students grieving for her. I remember an overwhelming turnout for her funeral service. Those memories remain vivid for me even today.
But that is all they are now — memories. Time marches on.
It is not clear in my mind when I realized that all of my mother's students had grown up, even the ones she was teaching when she died. Some of those students may still remember her; others may not.
Many of those who still remember her may have children of their own now. And, perhaps, they hope that their children will be fortunate enough to have a teacher like my mother.
That would be a great tribute if some of her former students, no matter when they were in Mom's classroom, could see similarities between their children's teachers and my mother. The ultimate tribute, I suppose, would be if some of Mom's former students were inspired by their memories of her to pursue teaching careers.
It reminds me of how I feel about the September 11 terrorist attacks.
I don't begrudge the survivors their pain and suffering. They're entitled to it, even if Ann Coulter writes disdainfully about the "Jersey girls" and their alleged glee over their husbands' deaths.
It's become an annual ritual, this gathering at Ground Zero to recite the names of the dead and listen to speeches. And, even though the 9/11 Commission concluded its work five years ago, we should never stop seeking ways to improve national security. The loopholes the terrorists exploited in the system were big enough to drive a tank through. The ones that are still open need to be closed.
For writers, there are few topics that are as easy to write about as September 11. From sea to shining sea, they offer the latest spin every year:
- Joseph Curl writes, for the Washington Times, that the nation still mourns after eight years. With a few adjustments, the same story probably could be written in 2010 and 2011 and 2012;
- Faye Fiore observes, in the Los Angeles Times, that each anniversary is a reminder for the survivors;
- N.R. Kleinfield recalls, in the New York Times, that fears that New York would become "fortress city" never came to pass.
That may seem unsettling to some. Remembering, writes the New York Daily News, is "our forever unfinished business." The Pittsburgh Post–Gazette remembers the passengers of Flight 93 and looks forward to the completion of a permanent memorial to them in two years — by that time, I suppose, those who were born around the time of the attacks will be in fourth grade.
Eli Saslow writes, for the Washington Post, that the attacks are now "pages in the history books" for students in 2009 — like the Civil War and Pearl Harbor.
What seems relevant — even current (in an odd kind of way) — to older Americans is a lesson in history texts for younger Americans. What is needed, it seems to me, is a way to give a contemporary meaning to those events.
Not long after the attacks, September 11 was designated as "Patriot Day." I guess that insures that the date will be remembered long after those who lived through it have passed away.
But as long as the anniversary is marked as "Patriot Day," isn't that, in a way, allowing what so many people cautioned against at the time of the attacks? By focusing attention on what happened in 2001, isn't it a way of allowing the terrorists to "win?"
Even worse, isn't there a chance that, at some point, "Patriot Day," like so many other holidays, will lose its meaning and become little more than an excuse for retailers to promote sales that enable them to profit from the tragedy?
For a long time now, I have thought that September 11 should be used to pay homage to those people in American life who have a positive influence on young people — teachers, ministers, coaches, etc.
They often seem to be the forgotten patriots, the unsung heroes who seek to pass on the values that are revered in this country.
We can honor them — and those who died eight years ago today — by promoting the ideals that define their lives.
The war against terrorism needs no additional promotion.