Today I stared in the face of one of the many things 9/11 cost us as a nation. Who could fathom all of the long-term ramifications of that fateful day?
Seventeen years have passed, but when I think of September 11, 2001 vivid pictures come to mind. And not just pictures, but deep rooted feelings, including that soul clutching feeling of fear that crept over me that day.
My students wanted to talk about 9/11 today. I hadn’t planned to do so. Personally, I don’t like reliving it. I gave in to their pleas. We watched a brief video and talked for awhile. As soon as I got in front of the class to listen to their questions and comments I started to cry. I have no strong personal connections to anyone lost on that day, yet remembering still tears me apart.
As I looked at the faces of my sweet eleven students who have been untouched by a tragedy of this magnitude, I felt immensely sad for them because I realized something I had not thought of even though I have a child of my own the exact same age. These children born after 9/11 and in the wake of so many school shootings have never known a complete sense of carefree living. They have grown up with locked school doors, lockdown drills, sign out sheets, metal detectors and bag searches, and the constant reminder of “this is for your safety.”
As I reflected with them on my own childhood, the stark contrast became ever more evident. “When I was a kid, we just walked into Disney World. We didn’t have to be searched,” I told them.
“No way!!!” one of the girls exclaimed with wide eyes.
And that was the moment a shift occurred in me. I began to see the world through the eyes of the children. You see, as adults we lock the doors to help keep the kids safe and feel safe. But guess what? In doing so, we make some of them feel the opposite because they look at it from a different perspective. To them, it isn’t that they are safe inside but that there are possible scary things outside. Suddenly, the increase in childhood anxiety we have seen over the last several years makes more sense to me.
“I don’t ever feel completely safe,” one of my kiddos said.
And now I cry more tears.
I know not all of our children feel this way, but those that are more sensitive do. And that’s disheartening.
Today I experienced the importance of talking about these issues with our young ones. They need to be reminded that adults are doing their best to protect them. They need to feel the love of the big people around them and know that while not all of the world is safe, there are indeed safe people around. As Mr. Rogers so aptly said in his lesson to children in the wake of 9/11: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” We need to let our kids express their feelings, acknowledge them, and remind them that there will always be people to help them in a crisis.
There are moments over the last few weeks that it has been particularly wonderful to teach in a Christian environment. Today was certainly one of them. We took time to pray for the families of those who lost loved ones many years ago and to give thanks for the helpers that exist and for the hope that we have. By the end of the prayer I wasn’t the only one who had shed some tears in my room.