Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Where Were You (A letter to my students)

Dear students, 

Today is September 11, 2013.  Twelve years ago, the world changed.  Where were you?  Many of you were tiny babies.  Like, just born tiny.  Many more of you were toddlers, walking and starting to talk and get into things.  Some of you weren't even born yet - your moms were hugely pregnant, anticipating your birth so that it consumed every one of their thoughts.  None of you had any idea what was going on in the world.  And that's a good thing.  You didn't have to feel the pain, the shock, the devastation.  You may not have even noticed your parents crying, and if you did, you just crawled in their lap and gave them a hug, and went on playing with your blocks.  Your world has always been the way it is now.  And that's a different world than the one on September 10, 2001.  

Where was I when the world changed?  I was in college.  I remember like it was yesterday.  I was a sophomore at UW Madison.  I had an 8am class across campus, where I walked still sleepy.  The class was Geology, and I didn't much care for the professor, even though class had only been in session for two weeks.  At the start of class, he walked into the lecture hall, said, "How about the attacks on the World Trade Center?" and proceeded to take attendance and lecture like any other day.  When I got back to my dorm room, my room mate was staring at the TV with tears in her eyes and shock on her face.  She filled me in on the attacks in New York City.  For the rest of the day, we stared at the TV together, and cried, and tried to process.  We kept our door open, and the other girls in the hall stopped by and we processed together.  We called our families, who were all at least two hours away from us.  We started to analyze the situation, using all of the know-it-all-ness that a 19 year old possesses.  

That night, I walked to the Library Mall, in the center of campus, for a candlelight vigal.  We sang songs, said prayers, held candles that melted in our gripping hands.  And we cried.  I didn't know any of the people I was standing with.  I hadn't known anyone in New York.  But I cried.  And cried.  Because people died.  Men, women, children, babies, old people.  Firefighters, policemen, secretaries, and company presidents.  People flying across the country for business, or for vacation, or to see family never arrived.  They died.  There's no soft way to say that.  So I cried.  

So today, when your teachers are just a little bit quieter, or maybe they're a little on edge, or maybe they're just clutching a tissue like it's a child's blankie, please understand.  The world changed that day.  We will feel the pain for the rest of our lives.  And we will know that the world you are growing up in is not the same world that it was 12 years and one day ago.  

But, my lovely students, the world doesn't have to be dark.  You, who have grown up knowing the word "terrorist," who just accept the fact of extensive screenings at the airport, YOU have the power to change the world.  YOU can be lights in the darkness.  You can be the fixers.  I have faith in you.  
Know that you are loved.  


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