Monday, September 12, 2016

Never Forget

It seems like everyone completes an obligatory 9/11 post. We share a lot of the remembrance posts on social media, and every blogger I've read this past weekend sought to make the event fit their platform. Of course, one never intends to ignore the event simply because it doesn't fit their platform, but to revise the event itself to adhere to a personal blogger's standards is nothing short of selfishly disrespectful.

But 9/11 hits home for me. No, I didn't know anyone who was on one of the planes, or worked in one of the towers, or even responded to the tragedy in a police car or firetruck, but New York holds a special segment of my heart (hence the Taxis part of my blog's name). I first visited the intense yet magical city when I was seven years old, not even one complete year after the attacks in 2001. Though I never got to see the twin towers themselves, I spent a good amount of time at Ground Zero with my parents when debris and cinderblock remains still plagued the site itself. I returned to the site in 2008, and again in 2011, and in all that time, the new World Trade Center had yet to be completed. The families had yet to fully cope.

Sometimes I wonder if they have fully coped, even today.

Not even two whole years ago, I had the privilege of returning to the site to view the memorial they had been creating for more than ten years. Two fountains stood erect on the exact same coordinates in the exact same parameters of the original towers, plunging into the ground endlessly, representing how the sacrifice of each fallen hero and member of society lives on today. The name of each lost life rimmed the fountains themselves, no single life left out. Even the listings of unborn children were carved into the fountains' walls; roses stemming from the names in commemorative remembrance.

My heart strings were tugged and tears were shed. But as beautiful as that memorial was, my memory kept returning to the memorial we visited in a church in 2011, to a single piece of paper shaped like a hand. Decorated in red, white, and blue, someone had written:

Everything will be okay in the end. 
If it isn't okay, it isn't the end. 

This year's high school freshmen will be the first batch of students to learn about 9/11 from a textbook, as an event that they were not alive for, much as my generation learned of JFK's assassination or the previous generation learned of the Civil War. By the time my children have children, the impact of the tragedy will be lost in the pages of a history book that kids will skim to save time and get a good grade. The lives lost will be a statistic in faded ink rather than names of a father, of a mother, or of an unborn child who never even got to see the light of day. 

I'll be the first one to admit I don't appreciate history half as much as I should. Part of that is because I'm admittedly too selfish to take the time to recognize those numbers as someone else's loved ones, but part of it is because I had teachers who were far less dedicated to teaching us the importance of historical events as they were the facts themselves. 

As a future teacher, I don't have much to say about the Civil War or JFK's assassination. Since I am only 21, very few think I have much to say about 9/11, but they couldn't be more wrong. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I remember my first grade teacher gathering us on the carpet, dabbing her eye with a tissue as children were checked out by their parents one-by-one. 

Something important has happened today, she told us with a sniffle, Something that will change the way you live the rest of your life from the way your parents lived it. 

We were too young to understand. I had just turned seven only two weeks prior. But I felt the urgency to hug my teacher since she was clearly hurting. She held me longer than usual. 

I could sense the tragedy even then. The classroom cleared out quickly. My parents were quiet at dinner, and my dad kept running into the living room to watch the same newscast over and over on television. Everyone I came in contact with for the next few days were not themselves. As a kid, I was obviously not experiencing 9/11 with the same fear and uncertainty that the adults around me were experiencing it with. But as a future educator looking back, I realize just how unique my 9/11 story is to share. 

Perhaps one day I'll have a first grade class of my own: a room full of bright-eyed, lovely, innocent children who are incapable of fully understanding such tragedy. How can you possibly explain such pain in a way whole minds and pure hearts will understand? Why would you want them to understand such a thing? Keep them innocent as long as you can, my heart tells me, Don't make them understand the trials of life any faster than they have to. Keep them little. Keep them innocent. 

But that's not my job. My job is clearly to prepare them for life. How much is too much to say? How much is too much for them to understand? When my first grade teacher saw the second plane hit the second tower in the break room while we were at recess, what was she thinking? How did she come up with what to tell us so quickly? How did she hold it all together? Was she scared for herself? For her family? For us? Or was she so stunned that she simply did what she had to do to get us through the day? 

What was running through her mind when parents started calling out her precious students? Did they not trust her with their safety? And why did other parents have jobs they could leave to retrieve their own children when she had a class full of twenty that weren't even hers to comfort and console? 

These are the moments of teaching that no one thinks about. It's not all apples and composition notebooks. It's not about standardized tests and sharpened pencils either. It's about love, and selflessness, and making as much of a difference in a small child's life as you possibly can in only nine short months. It's about preparing kids for life, while also reminding them that it's okay to stay a kid. 

As a future educator who wants to move to New York, my heart aches a little extra on 9/11. If it was a difficult situation for my teacher in Fayetteville, Arkansas, how difficult was it for a teacher in Queens? Brooklyn? Or worse, what about a teacher in the financial district of Manhattan? A teacher whose classroom itself had a direct view of the towers themselves? A teacher who had a student with a mommy who worked in the World Trade Center, or a daddy who was an airplane pilot flying out that morning? A teacher whose husband was an EMT in New York City, or whose child's daycare was next door to the fire station sending out wailing engines. What would that poor teacher possibly have said? What could she possibly have done? 

These are the things that are lost in textbooks. These are the things overlooked in high school history powerpoints. Why do teachers spend so long teaching "history" when they could be teaching someone's story? Someone's tragedy? Someone's victory? 

As a student who hated history, I sought to become a teacher of an age where history was not in the curriculum. And it's not in early childhood curriculum, because my kiddos are too young to understand, just as I was too young to understand. But I'm not so sure ignoring it is the best thing for our young children either. Since I didn't understand it as a child, I sought to understand it more as an adult. I was curious. I was interested. 

If we wait until our students can fully understand, they'll learn about 9/11 as one more date that they'll have to remember and one more statistic of dead people they shouldn't forget. And some creative teacher will numb herself so she can make up a song and an acronym to help them remember, even though she remembers the impact of the event itself. 

Believe me... If there's one thing I never thought I'd be writing to defend, it's the importance of history. And maybe history itself isn't all that important, but I firmly believe that other people's lives are. We certainly don't want everything we accomplish in our lives to be forgotten when we die. Why do we assume the digits in our history books felt any different? 

I waited to post this until today because it's only eight hours after the 15th anniversary of 9/11, and most of you have already forgotten about it. And just yesterday you shared ten posts with the hashtag #neverforget. If it was that important yesterday, it's still important today. 

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