What we lose when we forget

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(originally published September 17, 2015)

Last week’s observance of the 9/11 tragedies made me wonder; what happened to the observance of 9/11? Yes, flags flew at half-staff. A front-page photo of a trio of policemen and firefighters mourning in New York City was in the Indianapolis Star, but I see media coverage of these tragic events waning with each coming year.

Those of us old enough to remember will never forget. I wonder, is there an obligation to remind and educate our young people about that fateful day and the consequences still remaining from the attacks?

Ask anyone age fourteen and under what they know about 9/11 and more than likely they will respond that planes crashed into the World Trade Center. Unfortunately, they can reveal little else about the other attacks. To them, the day’s events are filed away with other “ancient” history.

Before September 11, 2001, 9/11 was simply the day my son was born at 11:47 p.m. Until then, the day was reserved for birthday parties. First, it was a Crayola crayon-themed party, followed by a barnyard one; many dinosaur and basketball-inspired celebrations were observed before they evolved into family dinners. Now 9/11 is always a backdrop to those celebrations.

Can we blame today’s youth for not knowing the horror of 9/11? Does it take time and effort to set aside the chores of the day for a moment of silence, a memorial service, and a lesson in a classroom? No, kids are not to blame. Adults are, whenever they don’t talk about it, don’t sit the family down to watch a documentary, or don’t pause to reflect on the day.

Some people trod along an interstate overpass waving an oversize flag at cars below to honor those who died on 9/11. Thank you. Some people serve in the military because of the sacrifices of that day. Thank you. Some people create artistic memorials using beams from the destroyed World Trade Center. Thank you. Such individuals will never forget the sacrifices of that day. How can we be more like these people?

Credit should be given to ESPN. One of the best (commemorative) programs I saw last Friday featured footage from 9/11 as NYFD firefighters searched through the rubble for survivors. Another portion of the program focused on how, within days after the attacks, Americans got back to business enjoying their pastimes such as a New York Yankees baseball game. President Bush threw out the first pitch showing the world that Americans were not afraid to continue living their lives.

The irony of such acts may help endanger our lives today because we get too comfortable living our lives that uncomfortable issues are easier to sweep under the proverbial rug. They are hard to talk about and hard to confront. In historical terms, 9/11 was akin to Pearl Harbor, or the day JFK was shot to the millennial generation. Hopefully, this new “Generation Z”, the one today’s youth belongs to, will never face their own 9/11. So, that is why it is vitally important to teach them this history long before encountering it in a high school history class.

Recently, a friend and I were discussing one of the most compelling speakers we ever had the privilege of hearing, Andy Card, former chief of staff for President George W. Bush. Card wishes history would not remember him for being the guy who whispered the fateful news into President Bush’s ear that America was under attack as the President read a book to a room full of school children. If the clock could be turned back . . .

That day, the President had to remain calm in front of the children. Their protection was important. It is time for the whisperings to be heard once again so the children will know. The children who will, one day,  protect us need to learn from history so as not to repeat it.

Thankfully, I learned this week that some local school children sung “The Star Spangled Banner” on 9/11, some others studied about the attacks; some did not. 9/11 cannot be consumed in a sound bite, but its bitterness must be tasted. Our nation depends on it.

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