From the time I crossed the threshold into Ms. Kosmin’s kindergarten class until I was in seventh grade, I loved school. I didn’t love tests or homework– something that has followed me throughout my life– but I loved the act of learning. I still absorb information like a sponge. I’m sure that if you gave me a test or made me write a paper, you’d be disappointed in my recall or underwhelmed by my observations, but the knowledge remains. I can call up all sorts of information at opportune times. I sometimes think that my young self cared so little about tests because it took away from the pure joy of school. So long as I felt like we were immersed in learning, I was happy. The second someone turned it into a competitive and objective system of cataloging the contents of my brain, I began to shut down.
Memorizing the dates of battles and treaties being signed plagues me. I spent so much time trying to remember the dates of treatises and reigns of monarchies, battles, wars, and other nonsense, that I couldn’t focus on understanding the general chronology of events or even what those events really even meant. My grandfather did his part to make me feel exceedingly guilty about my ambivalence. I needed to know the date of Pearl Harbor, DDay, the end of the second world war. These were defining moments in American history, the fabric of who I was. Or were they?
There are dates that I will never forget. My grandchildren will be tested on the date that two terrorist planes hit the Twin Towers. They’ll make flashcards to study and memorized the date using devices like “two towers that look just alike is an eleven.” But that date will slip away. And like me and Pearl Harbor, DDay, Normandy, ‘Nam and so many others, they will struggle years later to remember whether it was September 11th or if they’re confusing that with a president’s birthday. And like my grandfather, I’ll implore them to understand the importance of what they are so seemingly ambivalent about. “September 11th was a defining moment in American history. It’s the fabric of who you are!” I’ll say to them.
We never forget the moments that changed us. Ask twenty young black men the date of Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassination and they won’t be able to tell you. Ask their parents and they will pluck it from a wrecked and ugly scar deep within their minds. That day, every belief, every hope, and every security they knew came into question. We go back to those moments not because of their dates, but because the dates are synonymous with the part of our lives we could not control.
I remember listening to a social studies teacher tell me about living through the Cuban Missile Crisis. Clear as if it was yesterday, I remember her describing how she would stare into the sky wondering when and if her entire world would end. At that moment, as a child, she was the equal of her parents. There was no higher comfort, no person that could explain away the fear. She will never forget that day. She’ll never be able to separate the date from everything it brought with it. Not just in that day, but in her entire life.
For so many of us, September 11th is our day. Our quiet lives, our ignorance of war, our belief that the terrors of the world were outside our picked fence ended. Children whose lives didn’t even begin until after that day will know it because the lives of their mothers and fathers were sacrificed because of it. Just as my grandfather can rock lightly in a chair, close his eyes, and bring the memory of so many tragedies into the room, one day we’ll do the same. We’ll tell of where we were, what we did, and how it felt. And to our grandchildren, it will sound like a story. A romanticized American tale of horror and heroism, relegated to a 3×5 notecard, and released shortly after a test on the turn of the century.
9.11.01 Terrorist Attacks on Twin Towers (NYC)
Here’s to our dates. This one and all the others. We remember what we can.