Sunday, September 11, 2011

Where were You Ten Years Ago...

There are a lot of questions that start with those words.
          "Where were you when JFK was shot?"
          "Where were you when Pearl Harbor was attacked?"
But there is one big question that still shakes my generation to its core.  "Where were you the morning of September 11, 2001?"  We are once again faced with the irony that most of us can't conjure up an image of five days ago; the errands we ran, the thoughts we were thinking, the emotions we were feeling, and so on.  But when it comes to Tuesday, September 11, 2001, the setting unfurls painstakingly slow in the mind like some horrific scene from a movie, still as thick with color and pungent with details today as it was ten years ago.

Just like your own story, my September 11th narrative is something I could draw out for pages and pages.  But I will spare the reader all of that and just say that Clinton and I, along with the rest of the nation, were rattled that day.  I still remember a cold chill surging through my body when that second plane hit the towers; as the realization washed over America that this shocking tragedy was no accident.  I still remember watching all of the live footage.  With tears streaming down our faces, we watched as victims from the upper stories of the towers threw themselves out the windows, clawing at the air all the way down.  We cried in horror as the first tower collapsed to the ground, engulfing all of the firefighters and other victims within.  And then, with the rest of the nation, we watched in stunned silence as the last tower collapsed, taking with it any remaining hopes for a happy ending.

For Clint and I, the butterfly effect from that day still continues to shape our lives.  When the twin towers were struck, Clint was working for United Airlines.  As most people know, two of the airplanes hijacked were United Airlines jets.  Due to a newly instilled fear of terrorism on airlines, many Americans stopped flying.  This caused the airline industry to nearly collapse.  In October, 2001, United Airlines announced that they were furloughing every single aircraft mechanic who had been there five years or less.  And Clint, of course, was one of them. We lost his income, our medical insurance, the house we were in escrow for, and essentially, our livelihood.  But when you consider what others lost that day, and what the nation lost as a whole, we were definitely the lucky ones.  Irregardless, with no income, we had to leave our townhouse.  On December 19th, 2001, I took my last final for MATC, packed up a U-Haul, and headed back home to California.  I hung tinsel in our U-Haul since we wouldn't have a Christmas tree that year.  Trinity was twenty months old.

Now it is ten years later.  Every anniversary of 9/11, I show my seventh graders a poignant video called "America Remembers."  The first year that I showed the video, my students cried.  Though they were only eight years old in 2001, they still remembered that day.  They remembered the emotional shock wave that seemed to rattle through the entire nation.  They remember our country screeching to a halt.  They remember their parents being glued to the television screen.  They remember the sorrow, the anger, and the fear emanating from the grown-up's eyes.

Then I showed it the next year.  Now my students were only seven years old when 9/11 happened.  They still cried.  They still remembered.  But the memories were a little more blurry.

I showed it the next year.  Students were now six years old when 9/11 happened.  Some of them cried a little.  A few had hazy recollections of that day.

I showed it the next year.  Very few hazy recollections.  One or two teary eyes.  And so it continued.

Then I showed it last year.  Not one of them had any memories of September 11th, 2001.

Now, tomorrow, I will show the video to a group of students who were only two years old when September 11th occurred.  I wonder if there will be any tears at all?

In another two years, my students will have not even been born when the events from September 11th transpired.  And from that point on, 9/11 will be nothing more than a historical tidbit found within their social studies textbooks.  It feels strange to watch such an important memory whittle away to almost nothing.

But my generation remembers. And for the sake of the heroes that lost their lives that day, please, let's not ever forget.