Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Memory of September 11th - What Do We Tell The Children?

Schools across the nation received a proclamation from the office of the President: flags were to be flown at half-mast. Schools were to somehow memorialize this day, now being declared, in what can only be deemed as election year gusto, as Patriot Day. It had fallen on me to write a small statement to be read over the intercom at the beginning of the day, to be followed by a moment of silence and the Pledge of Allegiance.

Explaining, in childrens' terms, the anniversary of this day. Seemed simple, I'd just write something up when I got home. But once the task was upon me, it seemed ever so complex. How do you cull the significance, the emotion of this day to children who had either been too young to be aware, or, for half of our students, not yet born? How do we convey the grief, the loss? Is there a way to get across the amazing way that we pulled together as a nation over such horrifying events, or to answer the inocent question of "Why do they hate us so much?" The more I remembered, the more dificult the seemingly simple task had become.

Tweenie remembered that first grade day, when we had been told about it by a teacher at her school as I walked her to class. Little Man has grown up knowing about it, but with no real memory of the event. We'd listened to a Disney Greatest Hits collection on the way in, blissfully unaware of the events of the greater world. I was reveling in the sheer joy of their voices, the delight of having a little girl and a tiny son. Now, it's one of those life-changing moments, those temporal landmarks that immediately evoke a time and a place in our minds.

Facts. I began with facts. The Presidential Declaration, the date and the events of the day. But the events of the day were too much. So I scaled back to just a brief line or two about how people we call terrorists crashed two planes into the World Trade Center. I added several lines about the number of lives lost and the courage, selflessness and heroism of the day. A line about school being a very safe place to be, and that this happened before many of them had been born. And to honor the memory of so many brave people by showing kindness, citizenship and comunity service in their own lives.

In the final analysis, I'd decided I wanted my own children and my students to know about September 11th is the efforts of ordinary people and the triumph of the American spirit. How people reached out to their fellow man: sacrificing their own lives to save others. Donating blood. Offering food and water to rescue workers. Or how our own school had made cards to send to the police and fire departments in New York, and to the people who worked at the Pentagon. How the American flag was everywhere - on nearly every house and car. That's the true legacy of the day, that is and was the way we honor the many brave and innocent lives lost.

After my short statement, we had a moment of silence, then said the Pledge of Alligience together. Whether the words I spoke had any impact, I don't know. But I do know that those of us who witnessed the day, whether East Coast or West, will always remember where we were when we received the news, how we hugged our children tight and kissed them a bunch more, and how we all wished to help, in whatever small way we could. And that should truly be the legacy of the day.