Days of Remembrance – Life Prior to 9/11

Friday became a day of awareness for me.  I had planned on doing a lesson about the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in my art class with the hope that I could tie our discussions about symmetry, contrast, and how artists plan out their work.  Other teachers in the school had also decided to, instead of not addressing the 10th anniversary of that fateful attack, deviate from their original lessons and take the moment to teach our students about the events of 9/11 and try to answer the questions they were having – and believe me, they had the questions.

Most of my students have no memory of the attacks, and if they do, they are vague (I teach middle school students).  After showing what I believed to be a well put together collection of clips – Craig McMurtrie touring the site and talking to the architect, a time-lapse video of the actual building of the structures,  and then a virtual tour of what the site should look like when the memorial is integrated into everyday life (after the completion of the One World Trade Center skyscraper), I gave my students a few simple questions to answer about the site.  What BALANCE is the artist using in his design?  What elements CONTRAST in the artwork?  What do you like about the memorial? – explain your answers.  Simple enough, should allow those who haven’t done well on my two tests to make up for it, show they understand the material…..but it wasn’t.

My students wanted to know more about the attack than I had anticipated.  They wanted to know why it happened?  Why would anyone want to do that?  Why do they hate us?  Will it happen again?  I tried to answer their questions the best way I could.  I explained that Al Qaeda doesn’t like the way we live and believed that what they were doing was right.  We talked about religion, how extreme belief can cause people to do extreme things.  I really tried to focus on telling them that just because one group of people do something horrible, doesn’t mean all of that particular group are like them.  All day long we talked about the “whys” and by the end of the day, I wasn’t so sure that I had done a good job at all.  We even spent some time talking about a world prior to 9/11 and how the events of that fateful day changed everything.  While it was already harder than I imagined talking about the 9/11 attacks, it was discussing a world prior to  those events that struck me the hardest.

My students don’t know a world prior to 9/11.  They don’t know a world prior to Columbine.  They only know terror alerts and war.  They practice lock down drills and have their cell phones on them at all times.  They are so connected to the world around them via technology, yet many don’t know how to talk with someone they are face to face with.  They participate in sports but don’t know what it means to have sportsmanship or how to recover from a loss.  Everyone wins, no one can fail, and if someone does fail, it’s not a learning experience to make them better or inspire improvement – it’s someone else’s fault and it better be fixed.  It’s a strange world to live in right now.  It feels as if we are on the edge of something, that all it will take is a push, and we will tumble.  I have felt this way for a while now, but today felt as good as any to comment on it.

I’m not trying to say that I grew up in a golden time (mid-80’s – late 90’s), and that my childhood was better than their childhood is.  Looking back though, I feel that is was distinct.  It was almost as if there was a grace period between events in the United States and I got to grow up in that grace period.  This is an idea I want to explore more though both writing and art, but it won’t be today.  I can’t articulate it enough to do my memories, or the reason for remembrance on this specific day, justice.

It hurt to watch the planes crash into the Twin Towers.  It hurt to feel the fear that other people in other countries feel on a daily basis.  The events of 9/11/01 have shaped the country we live in today – they helped shaped the world we live in today.  At times, I don’t know how I feel about that.  All I can be for sure on is that I feel loss when I think about the day the towers fell.  I feel sympathy for the people who had loved ones die on that day, and subsequent, ongoing, days during the War on Terror.

I don’t know how to end this writing.  I don’t know what I can write that will express how I feel this morning.  Maybe I should have kept my thoughts to a blurb on Facebook and left it at that.  I don’t know about that at all, but, I do know it is important to remember, to acknowledge, to discuss, to encourage positive change, to understand that your point of view isn’t the only point of view, to learn and keep learning, to love, to hope, and to keep living when everything changes around you.

Life can’t be lived in memories or fear, but it can be shaped by both.  Hopefully we are being shaped by the memories of bravery, courage, community and not by the fear of the unknown threat.

9/11/01 – we will never, I will never, forget

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. D3Z
    Sep 11, 2011 @ 11:34:32

    I think we would still have the awesome technology we have if 9/11 didn’t happen, we were already carrying cell phones in school(well those who could afford them, I didn’t)…we had a shitty president that could have prevented all this stuff from happening, and really I don’t understand why after 10 years people still live in fear, I don’t fear the things that where threats in ww2…I think instead of rehashing this terrible event we should look at our lives now and move forward


    • stacigilliam
      Sep 11, 2011 @ 12:23:58

      I agree with all of that Dez, and I didn’t mean to imply that technology developments are a result of 9/11 – and I too think we should move forward, which I believe I, and most people, are – I just thought it was sad that most of the questions I got on Friday were “are we going to be attacked again..the news said we might be attacked again.” For myself, I just think growing up in the lull between the lack of technology available and the abundance was an interesting time. and being around young people all day puts it in stark contrast…..I probably should have written that a little clearer.


  2. D3Z
    Sep 11, 2011 @ 17:58:22

    That lull was because we didn’t have a Bush in office…and I don’t really think we were attacked because they didn’t like our way of life, I think it was a bit more political than that. I think the media blows too much out of proportion, or maybe their parents are if they live in fear of another attack…but I guess we should never let our guard down because America is good at making enemies


  3. D3Z
    Sep 11, 2011 @ 21:50:47

    Staci, you have really made me think! All day I’ve been thinking about paranoid middle schoolers!


  4. cryptotox
    Sep 12, 2011 @ 00:22:20

    Thanks for posting this, Staci. As someone who can see the impact the events of 9/11/01 have had on our everyday life from travel restrictions to increased emphasis on emergency preparedness to the tipping point between personal privacy and security, it was a paradigm shift to realize that in as little as ten years such a significant portion of our population would would not have grown up with any significant experience in contrast to the post 9/11 world. It’s really important that they understand the consequences that acts of violence can have on our society and really the entire world. This post has really reminded me that different generations have to share their experiences with the youngest in order for society to move forward. I had kind of fallen into a false assumption that the ubiquity of technology would help to homogenize the experiences of the generations. However, from this it is evident that there are some events that shape our life so significantly that they define us in a way that the next generation can’t fully comprehend. We still have to try to share the lessons learned, though, and I think you did a good job, Staci, at instilling the point that the hateful actions of a few may have consequences for us all but they do not sanction an us vs them retaliatory fueling of the hatred.


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