Family Practice: 9/11 legacy: Lessons lostWritten by Shannon Szyperski | | firstname.lastname@example.org
I have a feeling that I’m not able to fully comprehend the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, D-Day, V-E Day or any other monumental day before my time. Just hearing and reading about them throughout my life has not quite been enough to impress their true weight upon me. Try as I might, learning history just isn’t the same as living through it.
I can vividly recall sitting in my fourth grade classroom watching live coverage of the Challenger disaster, standing in Best Buy as O.J. attempted to elude the LAPD in slow motion, seeing the manhunt unfold the day of the Oklahoma City bombing and arguing with my husband minutes before the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon re-entry.
Still, no moment in modern American history is as deeply etched into my mind, and no doubt into the minds of most Americans, as Sept. 11, 2001.
It is our day that will live in infamy.
Like millions of Americans, I watched United Airlines Flight 175 fly into the South Tower live on television. I mistakenly thought I had witnessed recorded footage of the first plane and the first crash, allowing me to hold onto hope for a few more seconds that what was happening could be anything other than deliberate. As those seconds passed and I lost whatever pieces of naiveté were left in me at 25 years old, I realized that I was also babysitting two little ones who deserved to maintain their own innocent world views, at least until their parents came home that day.
As thousands of people around the country experienced their worst, most unimaginable nightmares while still wide awake, I spent much of the day trying to pretend like nothing bad had happened. I remember floating erratically between playing outside on one of the otherwise clearest and most beautiful days I’ve ever noticed and secretly soaking in the news coverage of so many fellow humans losing their lives, their loved ones, their sanity and their futures. I attempted to guide my little charges through as normal a day as possible, but the back of my mind couldn’t quite stop wondering if, along with a million other things, their uncle had made it safely out of the Pentagon and if they would ever see him again. Thankfully, they would.
At a time when my husband and I were on the brink of wanting to have our own children, the world suddenly felt as if it was completely crumbling around us. We spent the first several days watching much of what we had known seemingly slip away on the news. All that we could do was put our lives on pause to mourn what was and to fear what might be coming next.
I don’t remember when, but there eventually came a point when I stopped fearing what might be and instead gained confidence about what must be. I wanted to start a family even more than I had on September 10, 2001. Perhaps it was witnessing a unification of Americans that I never quite believed could live outside of our ideals, or perhaps it was just a rebellious American spirit peeking through and demanding that we keep living our lives in spite of it all, but something made me want to bring children into the world more than I ever had before.
So, we did.
My children have lived up to their end of the bargain, opening up our world in new and wonderful ways, but it frustrates me to realize that our world has failed them in the ways I was most hoping it would teach them. The differences-aside unity we experienced, reveled in and breathed for the first weeks following 9/11 too soon became a casualty itself. Little evidence of the good we were able to salvage from the horror of that day remains for my children to learn from and build upon.
As our country now struggles through financial, social and other hardships, we could use that sense of accord we discovered in those first days and small hours after 9/11, when we realized without question what was right and what was wrong. Yet, the skewed ideals that led to the 9/11 events 10 years ago are essentially the same skewed ideals we continue to utilize ourselves to divide our country today: we’re right, someone else is wrong and we’re going to prove it. We convince ourselves that there is more good and more honor in getting our way than in getting along.
I know my children will only grasp 9/11 to the extent that I grasp Pearl Harbor. Part of me is just hopeful that they will never experience such dread themselves, while the other part of me is relieved that they may also never understand how shamefully we rejected the lessons we were handed that day.
In some instances, it’s probably best that learning history just isn’t the same as living through it.
Shannon and her husband Michael are raising three children in Sylvania. Email her at email@example.com.