It was a beautiful day, crisp air, clear skies, the ultimate antithesis of what was about to unfold that morning.
Most of us older than 21 clearly remember where we were when we heard the unthinkable: the towers had fallen. I can remember what I was wearing and the sickening fear for the people I loved who were in the city. We were near enough to tragedy to see the smoke and almost everyone I know knows someone who was there. Two people I went to high school with died that day. A man in our town did not come home to his family. A friend lost his brother-in-law. A neighbor lost her cousin.
It was a day for saying, “I love you” to our children and to each other.
9/11 was a dark defining moment for a generation with memories of neither Pearl Harbor nor Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby.
The juniors I was teaching that Tuesday morning seemed suddenly so very young. Teen swagger and bravado vanished. We huddled around a battery operated radio, anxious for a sign that everything would be OK, that someone was in charge. When we all heard the unmistakable overhead roar of military pilots en route to the city, they surged toward me with the unconditional collective expectation that I would be able to keep them from harm. I will always remember the helpless dread, knowing that I would do whatever I could, yet equally certain that whatever I could do might not be enough.
The world changed forever that day.
And for our students– though each year, more and more of them are too young to remember this day– this is the only world they have ever known. It’s a world where traveling means removing their shoes and liquids are no-nos. It’s a world in which images of explosions can dominate the evening news. It’s a world of colored-coded security assessment and random acts of terror that we never believed could reach us here.
As adults, we must find ways to make this generation of kids feel safe amid this new reality. We have to provide the pockets of security where they can still be children, where they know they are far from harm’s way.We have to provide quality time for laughter and pride, for anticipation and excitement.
We may not be able to alter the future, but we can, we must, do what is in our power to preserve the present.
In NY, Labor Day is New Year’s Eve for families and for teachers. It’s the anticipation of a fresh start, the excitement of sharpened pencils. Every student starts the new academic year with an A average; every teacher starts the new year with a repertoire of innovations and insights to see to it that every pupil sustains those A averages.
The great gifts of summer vacation–perspective and rest and vision–make all things possible by Labor Day. Like the rings that age trees, lessons of past years measure growth and become part of who we are. We–students and teachers alike– begin anew, ardently focused on making the ring that will mark this year the richest, widest ever.
So for all those heading back to school this week and next, best wishes for a happy, healthy and productive new year. There are exciting adventures to be written on the as-yet-blank pages of those spiral notebooks.
Happy New Year!