Monday, September 11, 2006


I feel like I should write something about 9/11. This is the big day, right? The big 5-year anniversary. Everyone' s talking about it. The president is urging us to go back to that day and feel the unity that the country felt right after the terrorist attacks (meaning "support this war, wave a flag, praise Bush.") It's all over the media today, and will be for days... maybe weeks.

In a way, I feel like all the media attention devoted to 9/11 is cheapening it. Like everyone wants to lay claim to part of the tragedy. But we do own it. All of us. That day changed everyone. We were all on the planes, in the buildings as they burned, in the streets as the buildings fell. We all watched. We all cried. We all felt numb. We all felt the world change.

I remember that day so well. I can close my eyes and it's 2001 again. I probably remember that day better than any other day in my life, aside from the days my children were born.

I was pregnant with Olivia, almost to term, teaching art at Stonewall Jackson Middle School on Charleston's West Side. I was feeling rough that day, having a hard time getting going in the morning. The bell rang, classes changed, and the new group coming in had a lot of special education students. They were usually pretty excitable, but that day, they were especially jittery and wild. I waited for the rest of the students to filter in, and got my supplies ready to pass out to the class to begin a lesson on color theory. The aide walked in, and asked me if I minded if he turned the TV on. That was a strange request, so I must have given him an odd look. He stuttered a little and said, "Ma'am, we're under attack. The World Trade Center has been hit." At that point, I turned on the TV and we watched the coverage. My crappy TV had a horrible signal, but still, all the kids sat and watched. I gave up my lesson on color theory, and we did art therapy, instead. I let the students draw whatever came to mind -- just get it out on paper, I told them.

We all spent the rest of the day drawing, crying... some students laughed because they didn't know how else to react. Funny how that sort of stress can affect children that way. Some students were angry -- furious -- at everyone and nobody in particular. Some students felt numb, then felt guilty because they didn't feel like crying. And that's OK, too. I think I fit into the last category. I was in super-teacher mode, trying to help the kids and not allowing myself to feel anything. I knew it would hit me later.

After school, I went to my weekly doctor's appointment, in a surreal daze. How could the rest of us go on like the world is normal? How could the busses run? How could people be at the drive-thru, getting burgers? How could airplanes be up in the sky, and cars be driving around? How could life not be at a complete standstill, everywhere?

I didn't cry at all that day until I tucked my children into bed. I hugged them so tightly and just cried without either of them knowing. I cried in the shower, feeling the baby kicking, wondering what kind of life she would face. I cried when my husband came to bed, thinking of those who went to work that morning, never to see their families again.

I felt the world change that day. I felt guilty that I couldn't give my children a better world to grow up in. And then I realized that that's why life did go on. It's up to those who lived through that day to make the world into a place where this sort of thing will never happen again.

It's five years later. What are we doing about it? Everyone owns this challenge. Everyone has an opportunity, every day, to change the world and make it better. Everyone. In little ways, big ways... depending on the opportunities that strike. You can hold your umbrella over a stranger's head. You can leave a book on the bus for the next rider to find. You can smile at someone. I could make a huge list that goes on for pages and pages, but it really depends on the situations that present themselves to you. Each encounter with another human being is an opportunity to promote peace. Take those opportunities and change the world. This is the legacy of 9/11. This is the unity we need to return to, and it has nothing to do with the president. This is how we make a world where tragedies like 9/11 can never occur again.

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