Unfortunately, the 21st century was ushered in by a tragic terrorist attack that shook the nation. The last 18 months have felt like its own decade in itself that we can sometimes forget just how much has happened in the 21st century. But as we approach the 20th anniversary of the horrific attacks on American soil on September 11, 2001, we would do good to remember and reflect.
When I was teaching, I would dedicate class every year on 9/11 to just that. Often, especially the last few years, my students were not born yet and so the day fit right in with the many “history lessons” of the school year. But this day was different.
I remember my neighbor knocking on our door at 6:30 am, telling us to turn on our TV. By then, two planes had already struck the World Trade Center and minutes later, a third struck the Pentagon. I was shocked. The remainder of the tragic day played out in real time. I saw the first tower collapse on live television. Then the second. Then I heard about Flight 93. Sorrow filled our hearts and minds that day.
My first year teaching I showed the History Channel’s breakdown of the day alongside my own personal story. The History Channel does a fantastic job explaining the timeline, but at the end of it, I felt something was still missing. The students didn’t feel what I felt.
My second year, I decided to do something different. I showed a clip of that day’s news. Not thinking, I didn’t bother to watch it beforehand. As it played, I sobbed. The news took me back to that morning. I told my students I needed some time. I forgot how much the events of that day affected me.
I had a similar moment earlier this week. I read the Washington Post’s excellent story that highlighted 4 young adults that were still in the womb the day their father’s died in the attacks (The Post’s “9/11 20 years later” thread of articles is moving journalism). Now in college or the military, they grew up their whole lives hearing stories or watching home videos of the dads they never knew. Again, I sobbed. They each lost someone, before they even knew he was theirs. 9/11 took their dads from them.
As we reflect on 9/11, twenty years later, may we never forget the tragic day. May we remember the lives lost, the families directly impacted, and the country’s trajectory over the last two decades. It’s good for us to remember, even when it’s hard.