Yesterday after the first day of 5th grade, Quarta asked us, "What's 9-11? Everyone at school was talking about it today."
She "knew" about the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in the sense of having heard of them, of course. But she didn't know about them. She didn't know exactly where the attacks occurred, how the terrorists had seized the planes, why somebody trapped on the 84th floor couldn't be rescued even though he dropped a note out the window, or why so many people had to die. (I think a lot of us are still working on that last one).
Born in July of 2002, Quarta would be part of the baby boomlet following the terrorist attacks, if such a boom actually existed. I can't speak for anyone else, but I certainly could identify with wanting to do something life-affirming, making a stand for preserving American culture, and not putting off any longer something I wanted to do anyway.
But I fell in line with the rest of the culture, which said that 9-11 was too big, too terrible, and we needed to protect our children from it. I'm not so sure now. I think, now that years have passed, that we need to teach it to our kids the same way we teach all our history, or we will be condemned to repeat it. I got out the commemorative news magazine I had bought and then filed away when they told us to protect our kids from images of destruction. I paged through it a little with Quarta at breakfast today. She was ready to quit looking after a short time. Maybe sometime I'll look up some of the children's books dealing with the events of that day and discuss them with her. I tend to think that talking about it is better than pretending it didn't happen. And she's a big kid now.
But I kept thinking about that other Tuesday, the second day of school in my second year of teaching, when I flipped on the television to catch the headline news while I fed the kids breakfast, not expecting to be confronted with so much evil so early on a beautiful September day. The second tower fell just a few minutes after I tuned in, and I remember gathering the boys with me and praying the Lord's Prayer. Then in the following days, getting chills when I realized that we had probably been praying those words along with the passengers on Flight 93.
Those days after the attacks were deeply saddening but they were also the last time I remember when Americans stood largely united. We all agreed that evil had been done and justice needed to be pursued, but it didn't last. Little by little, the pettiness of partisan politics crept into discussions of how to pursue justice. Conspiracy theorists planted seeds of doubt and distrust for their own strange reasons. And Americans, as we too often tend to do when there is important work to be done, got bored and wanted to move on to the next exciting thing.
I thought a lot today about the possible reasons why so many people I know today are apolitical. I think it's a reaction to the overdose of political bickering we get from the media, combined with short attention spans resulting from self-indulgence and an inferior education. But those things are minor hindrances. We are, after all, Americans. We are the descendants of the Founding Fathers, the pioneers, and the Greatest Generation. So I would challenge anyone reading this blog to make the most of the sacrifices that have been made for us. If you remain apolitical after a careful examination of your history and heritage, well and good. But remember that those people who died eleven years ago didn't die so that we could have the freedom to vote. No, they died because we have the freedom to vote. Our enemies resent that freedom. By wasting or ignoring that freedom, we give them what they want.
Realizing that, I can never be apolitical. Sure, the constant barrage of robo-calls and junk mail is annoying. Sure, both parties and all politicians have flaws, some of them major. Are we not bigger than that? Can we not overcome pettiness and use our hard-won freedoms to make wise choices for the future of our country? I would certainly hope so.