Northerner In Nashville

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Sep 11 2011

Here one moment, gone the next…

On Fridays, I make a point of eating lunch with my kids. Normally, I try to avoid the din and air of madness that is the cafeteria, but the kids get so excited about it that I can compromise once a week. This past Friday, I managed to get more kids involved in conversation than ever before. That included Christian, who rarely participates in anything voluntarily.

Why the interest? One of my students has a relative with a local TV show, and she was going to be on it over the weekend to talk about September 11th.

With one or two exceptions, none of my students this year were alive on September 11, 2001. Last year, I had a child whose birthday was September 11th and I didn’t have the heart to explain to her why I couldn’t work up the same level of enthusiasm about her birthday as 4th graders expect.

The title of this blog makes it clear that I’m from the North. New England. Boston, to be exact. While the events of September 11th had an impact on everyone from around the country, it’s been fascinating comparing stories with those who were here in Nashville at the time. I wanted to convey this experience to my students, but without frightening them or confusing them. Because truly, they’re all lived in a post-9/11 world. They don’t remember a world where few people had cell phones, making it hard to track people down in an emergency. They can’t tell you exactly why we’re fighting a war, but they know that we’re at war.

On September 11, 2001 I was in the 8th grade (a detail I did not share with my students — they don’t need to know how old I actually am). We were in our first period class when someone from the office came to the door and told us to report to our homerooms. My school was very small, so all 60 of us were able to cram into one room, thinking “what is going on?”. Another office person came by with a note for a classmate — as she passed it, she said “your dad’s alright” before leaving. Needless, the girl was confused and the rest of us wondered why that message was important enough to pass along and yet we weren’t being told what was happening.

And when they told us, no one believed it. Then they turned on the news, and we were confronted with the truth — this was going to be one of those moments that no matter who you are, where you were from, you would know exactly where you were at the moment you heard about the World Trade Towers falling.

That night, my family ate dinner together as we always did. Except, in rare form, we ate in front of the television, to hear updates and read for names of those who had died. A member of my church was on one of the planes leaving Logan that day. My parents knew others who had been in New York or were on planes bound for California that day. While my father’s the poet in the family, my 13-year old self felt compelled to write a poem about that day, which began “Here one moment, gone the next…”

It’s hard to explain how life has changed to my 4th graders. They know, like many others, that my brother is a member of the U.S. Military and I am fiercely loyal and proud of him. His deployment date has changed now more times than I can remember, and while I know he feels he should go, each time I hope that they’ve decided they don’t need to send more troops overseas. Without September 11th, I don’t know if my brother would have made the same choice to join the military.

Around the same time 10 years ago, I began to struggle with my faith and with religion. While the arguments go back and forth about how 9/11 is actually tied in with religion, it made a young and confused teenager question how horrible acts could be committed by people who claimed to follow their religious tenets. I’m not just talking about the debates of Islam, but even “Christians” who treated other Americans cruelly based on their own perception of Islam, which more often than not seemed to have been developed without ever actually talking to someone who was Muslim.

While I still struggle with faith in a religious sense, since 9/11 I’ve put my faith into what I know I can believe in: helping others. I think that’s why I’ve been drawn to education. Issues in education are pervasive, and yet regardless of where you started, people tend to agree on the primary aims: We are here to help the children, as everyone, regardless of birth or upbringing, has a right to a quality education. I wouldn’t hear about Teach for America for another 2 years, but I think I would still have felt compelled to serve in some way.

A couple from college was married a year ago today. When they announced their date, the reaction was muted. “Oh” we said behind their backs “what a horrible date to be married.” They clearly recognized this, as they included a section on their wedding website that explained that they wanted to remember the day in a positive way. That to them, they remembered the outpouring of patriotism and community togetherness that 9/11 created.

To some people like my students, 9/11 may just be a day that people mark like Memorial Day or Labor Day but fail to make any meaningful connection to. For those of us whose job it is to educate them, I hope we succeed to make them think more about just the 3,000 +lives that were lost on that day, but how it changed the lives of millions, if not billions, of people across the globe. And that for a moment, it wasn’t a matter of black/white, rich/poor/, north/south, but rather, bring connected to something bigger and greater than oneself.

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