Yesterday, I had the pleasure of chaperoning my son's field trip (which in and of itself is a long story, but I'll save that for another time, as it is not the point of this post). We had a group of about 48 11 and 12 year-olds (sixth graders), and part of the trip was a tour of the 9/11 Memorial in New York City.
One thing that stuck not only me, but the teachers and other chaperones as well is that none of the children were alive when 9/11 happened.
They've always existed in a post-9/11 world.
They don't know know what the NYC skyline looked like with the Twin Towers, and how once they were gone, it created a huge hole.
They don't know what it is like to say good-bye to someone at the airport gate, or greet them there the moment they deplane.
They don't remember the days when bags weren't searched and x-ray scanners weren't the norm. When you didn't have to remove your coat and belt and shoes just to enter a museum.
They've always known the term Al Qaeda. They've always known of Osama Bin Laden and Jihad.
They don't have the memories of that day, knowing exactly where they were and what they were doing. Watching the horrible events unfold, live on CNN.
They don't understand the gravity of the statement, "He worked for Cantor Fitzgerald."
They don't know how eerie it is to see a sky with no air traffic.
They don't know how frightening it is to see a low flying plane.
My personal recollections are in this post, but we all have those stories. The teacher who had a view of the Pentagon from his classroom. The teacher with a classroom full of kids who was summoned to the office because her principal knew her sister lived in the city. The mother who's youngest sister was late for work at her job in the South Tower, arriving just after the first plane crash (she grabbed a friend and high tailed it across the Brooklyn Bridge).
I had four boys with me yesterday. We didn't have time to read every exhibit, so I gave them the quick synopsis. I have to say, I'm proud at the respect and somberness they showed. I still don't know if they got the gravity of the situation. The steel beams, twisted and mangled, crumpled like paper. Seeing the steel arch and how massive it is, and how small it was compared to the rest of the building. The fire truck (Engine 3) with the front end melted off. All 11 members of the Company perished that day. How the phone lines to pretty much all of New York were jammed, so that loved ones could not be contacted. The missing flyers that grew in the days after. The horror of knowing all the emergency personnel mobilizing at the local hospitals would have no survivors to treat. Of knowing that there would be a high casualty count from the plane crashes themselves, but that no one expected the towers to fall.
Of watching people jump out the window.
I don't know if I said the right things yesterday. It's hard to believe it's been almost 15 years. It feels like yesterday.
I feel like I need to take my youngest to the 9/11 Museum and Memorial, when she's a little older. And then I will have no need to go back. I will carry in my mind, and in my heart, the terrible losses of that day until the day I die.
And I will pray that my children will have no such defining event in their lives.