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Generational Landmarks: September 11, 2001

Eduardo Munoz

By: Andrew Chapin, Staff Advisor

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Originally posted September 12, 2014 on http://www.afchapin.com

To see a timeline of the events of September 11, 2001, click here.’Forbes’ reminds us that ‘If You Don’t Take Time to Remember, You Forget‘. After our September 11th assembly, I tried to write this all day for myself, for the kids, for all those who lost their lives on that horrible day and for all those who worked to save them. And here it is.

I’ve never seen 9/11 in a textbook. I lived it. When my students asked me, that’s what I told them today, some of whom weren’t born yet and others who were too young to remember it. They looked at me like I had just cursed; how hadn’t I seen it in a textbook? The answer was simple: The next edition of the textbook didn’t come out until after I had finished American history.

This year, school started on September 11th, the first time as a teacher 9/11 has been the first day of school. Thirteen years ago was my first day of high school at Holy Trinity High School sitting in Jim Boglioli’s freshman history class. It was first period. I saw the smoke before the announcement came over the loudspeaker that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. This is right before every kid had a cell phone, none of which had internet capability anyway, so we sat there at the mercy of the next announcement that came a short time after that another plane had crashed into Towers. Some of the kids were crying. No one spoke. Everyone’s eyes were transfixed on the horizon where the noxious black smoke rose. It was almost apocalyptic.

We went throughout the day in disbelief as students were pulled from class and teachers walked out of class to try to get in touch with loved ones. I spent most of the day staring at my desk avoiding their eyes. I wish I had the insight to write about what I was thinking then, but I hadn’t yet been inspired.

The details were still so vague, and I didn’t have anyone to talk to. It was my first day in a new school, and I was as introverted as Emily Dickinson. All I wanted to do was get out of there. When I finally did, I walked into the house and saw Beatrice the cleaning lady and my mother, I collapsed into their arms and cried and cried. What monster could take the lives of all of those innocent people, all of those innocent Americans? It wasn’t even a patriotic response; it was a human one. My heart hurt for all of those dead and their families. I was sick because of it.

The news didn’t go off for what felt like days, on in every room. It was terrorism, and I remember thinking: Terrorism doesn’t happen in America. That happens in other places, but not America. It’s for other places like Lebanon and Iran and Israel. We were America, the preeminent super power; we did not have terrorism. Now, the pernicious word “terrorism” had permeated our vocabulary, shattering our glass house world. We were not invincible. And we never would be again.

My father and I went to a vigil at the church where I had Boy Scouts. People were streaming in, shaking their heads and saying the same “shame” or “tragedy.” One lady who worked near the Trade Center was talking to my father about how she had gotten some of the small debris on her way out of the city. I remember thinking that to be somewhat morbid. Here we were about to go in and pray for all of the lost Americans and their families, and she’s yakking our ear off about the history she brought back. She just didn’t get it.

As an uncertain war on terror rages on in the present, I have stories similar to others my age. Thankfully, none of my family or friends were really affected by it, but so many in our area were. Even if it didn’t affect you directly, it affected you. It’s pretty cheap and easy to bash civil servants, especially the NYPD, but our protectors deserve plaudits, not parting shots. First responders, NYPD, FDNY, Port Authority, and all of the other brave who were there that day and the days after helping victims and searching for survivors worked tens of hours without breaks because their country, their people needed them. And they were there for them.

I had never seen and still have never seen the American spirit as strong as it was in those days and weeks following September 11. Flags flew with gusto from EVERY house on the block and so many other blocks. People were more empathetic. Fewer horns honked. Less people cursed. There was more patience. There was more humanity – the lichens from the fires of September 11th, 2001.

Whether it’s today or 13 years ago, it was a first day of school on a day that will always be remembered by the people who lived through it and the people they pass it on to. Much like my grandparents and parents told me about VE Day and the assassination of JFK, I have to tell my students about it so they can understand it beyond a page and a picture in a textbook.

They have to understand we weren’t at war. They have to understand that it was the deadliest attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor. They have to understand that’s it’s not a day off with sales at department stores as one of my colleagues told the students this morning; it’s a time of mourning, a time of reflection, a time of pride in the American spirit.

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Generational Landmarks: September 11, 2001