I could write this post about remembering 9/11. I could write about being in my Senior Music Theory class and my music teacher being called out into the hall… but I’m not going to write about that.
I’m going to write about the first time I had to describe 9/11 to one of my students.
It’s easy for those of us who remember 9/11 to mourn it. We remember where we were, what we were doing, and who told us. We remember what life was like before it. To my students, the event is a foreign, hallowed thing that everybody’s sad about but nobody explains.
So we were talking about tragedy in our lives. Big tragedy. It’s a topic that comes up a lot- about 3/4 of the students I teach personally know, or knew, victims of gun violence.
Anyway, I was talking about Big Tragedy. “Like the earthquake in Haiti,” I said (which had just happened), “or 9/11.”
One girl, about 13 years old, timidly raised her hand and asked, “What is 9/11, anyway? People always talk about it, and I don’t know what it is.”
How do I start this story…?
“Well,” I said, “in New York City, there were these two tall buildings. Really tall. Like, the tallest in the whole country. They were the center of banking and trading and all kinds of things. Thousands of people worked there every day. They were called the Twin Towers…”
And I went on to tell the story- of terrorists hi-jacking planes, those planes crashing into the buildings that represented our country, the thousands of people who died, the way it banded our country together, the war that resulted…
It was a sad story. It astounded the girls who heard it. Before they heard the story, 9/11 was distant. But the story made it real. They understood why 9/11 was still on the news, why the president spoke, why there was a memorial, and why we went to war.
I’m reminded of a quote from The Lord of the Rings, the Two Towers (ironically). Sam Gamgee says it:
“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why.”
What story are you telling?