Thoughts on the day

There’s a television show that I used to watch called Third Watch. It was about NYPD and FDNY personnel who worked the third shift. It was an amazing show. It was shot on location in NYC, some of the background actors were real firefighters, and the writing was amazing. The third season of the show was slated to air in the fall of 2001. After some delay, they began airing in October of 2001, but they began with a special episode called ‘In Their Own Words.’ The episode won awards and remains, for me, one of the best media showcases on September 11th, 2001. That being said, I’m sure it can be found on YouTube, even though it only aired twice. If you’d prefer watching that as opposed to reading my ramblings, that’s okay with me.

For this post, I’m not going to rehash my experiences on the day as a seventh grader. Instead, I’m going to post recent thoughts. Thoughts I’ve gained as a teacher taking students to the Pentagon and NYC memorials. Thoughts about having to explain that day to kids too young to remember and some who were not even born yet. And my own thoughts on it all.

I haven’t gone to the museum in New York. I could have this summer, I was there and it was open. But I didn’t. I don’t know if I want to. But I have been to the memorial.

Over the months, I got to see the World Trade Center site transform. Each week with students something would be new or changed slightly. My main thought each week was how quiet the students were. There were times when I was nervous about taking some kids to the memorial. I thought they would be too disrespectful. Time and again I had to lecture them throughout the week about respect at memorials in DC. However, when they time came, they were fine. It was the one memorial they visited that actually commanded their respect and silence without prompting. It was also the only time other than once at the Holocaust museum that I had a student in tears.

This past summer, I got to visit with my sister. First, it was weird to enter with no ticket, nor a journey through security. What always strikes me first, though, is the noise of the water. How it drowns out the sound of the city. How it feels intimate, even though you’re surrounding by hundreds of other people and a stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of downtown Manhattan. Whenever I go, though, I’m drawn to the panel with the names of the victims at the Pentagon, because those are the stories I know best.

The first time I saw the Pentagon memorial, I cried. Almost every time I went I wanted to cry. I’m just one of those people who cries easily and often. Anyway, I could sit here and type story after story of the Pentagon victims, but I won’t. Those are all elsewhere, written by people who knew them, not stories paraphrased by me. I will write, though, about the memorial. I love the layout of the Pentagon memorial. Every person has a bench, and the benches are laid out by the birth year of the person. With the youngest close to the entrance to the oldest at the end. At first I didn’t understand why they were called benches. It seemed disrespectful to sit on them, so we always told the students not to. I got the reason why on Memorial Day of 2013. My sister was visiting, and she had never seen the memorial, so we went. While there, we noticed a woman sitting on one of the benches. Family often visits the site and you could tell in an instant she was the mother of the individual remembered. While sitting on the bench, her hand was at the perfect height to touch the inscription of her loved one’s name. She was crying. After realizing what we were seeing, I, of course, was crying. My sister was crying as well. We moved on through the memorial. It seemed disrespectful to intrude on this woman’s moment anymore than we already had.

I’m going to end with a story I often told my students. A story about a few of the Pentagon victims. Like I said, the memorial is laid out in birth years of the victims, and there are only a few children represented. I told my students the story of three kids about their age. Three sixth graders from the DC Public schools who had won a trip to California to attend a National Geographic conference. Three kids who maybe had never flown before, or been outside of the DC area. Imagine how excited they must have been. And imagine what their futures could have looked like. Would they have gone to college? Gotten married? Had kids? The question that always stuck in my mind, being only a year older was: Would I have known them? Could they have been my co-worker?

I think that’s what haunts everyone about that day. About every tragedy. The might have been. The what ifs that you can’t get out of your brain. But it’s impossible to live weighed down by those thoughts. It’s like I read once in a book about WWII, when a soldier wrote to his girl back home, “If I die in this war, don’t make it two lives lost.” Saying that she had to move on. To continue living and laughing and loving. For all of those who cannot.


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