Facebook is both a horror and a communication miracle. Most status updates have to do with the minutiae of our daily lives: comments on the weather, hangover declarations, to do lists, etc. Some touch on more meaningful subjects, like this one from my old friend Stan Laikowski:
It turns out that he is not. At least in our circles, many people of our generation are avoiding immersing themselves in the 9/11-themed offerings with which television, radio, and the internet are bombarding the public.
None of us thinks we ought to forget 9/11 or that the retrospectives are beneath us. Rather, much of them are simply difficult for us to experience again. And that is what we do when we watch footage of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers, the fire and smoke reaching into the sky and across the horizon, and people running for their lives amidst dust and debris and across a landscape at once familiar and foreign–we experience it again.
Collectively, our 9/11 experiences have value, but individually, personally – that shit still hurts. And as wimpy as it may seem, some of us try to shelter ourselves from it by avoiding all those retrospectives. Unfortunately, our kids bring home assignments for which we must delve into our own retrospectives.
My specific response to Stan’s question and responses from another high school classmate, Michael Frank:
As a teacher, I understand this type of assignment. They’re designed for the best reason: to create relevance for students who feel disconnected from this part of history. Unfortunately, unless students were personally affected, the relevance they find is somewhat superficial to them, even when they go digging with emotionally loaded interview questions that bring their parents right back to that awful morning.
Current middle school students can’t understand the emotional effects of 9/11 any more than we understood the emotional effects of JFK’s assassination. Raised post-Camelot, we grew up with a healthy dose of political cynicism. We understood the facts, but we didn’t internalize any of its emotional significance.
Most of our kids’ lives have been post-9/11. The existence of anti-American terrorism and our nation’s vulnerability are givens to them. For instance, the intense security at airports is annoying but not jarring to them. Despite our descriptions and explanations, 9/11 is not shocking to them. It’s history.
How can they know what it’s like to watch a city that seemed so solid and impenetrable laid low, its once familiar landscape suddenly foreign, a war zone? A nationally recognized skyline that some of us saw every day, altered and mutilated?
Some interview questions push interviewees further into their own experiences: Did you know anyone who was in the attacks/escaped/died? Were you worried about a specific person’s safety? They seem to be fishing for sensational responses.
For the record, one of my brothers did live in Manhattan and spent time in that area for work, so my first reaction (after falling off a treadmill and thinking “this can’t be happening”) was “Where’s Josh?” a question fueled by the hyper-focused intensity spawned only by the most visceral of fears and accompanied by prayer so desperate it had no words. My body shook today as I tried to explain to my daughter what that had felt like. I cried.
Maybe it’s too soon for me for such probing questions. Maybe it’s still too fresh for some of us, especially if it is not yielding the desired level of relevance, anyway. And consider this – do we even want our kids to really understand what it was like? Isn’t middle school enough of an emotional roller coaster?
I am still avoiding 9/11 themed shows, articles, and broadcasts. I don’t need them to remind me of the tragedy of that morning; it’s already indelibly etched into my brain, retrospective or not.