I dropped off my then three-year-old daughter at school.
“A plane flew into the World Trade Center,” one of my friends told me when I met her on the stairs. I didn’t understand. By the time I left the school and crossed Sixth Avenue to get home, I saw that both of the World Trade Center towers were on fire.
At my apartment I saw my mother and my 3-month-old son.
I will never forget seeing his face— the perfect face of a baby with its toothless smile and kicky legs and knowing right then that I would never be able to reconcile it with what I’d just seen outside.
There are many things that I will never forget about that day. I will never forget lowering the shades in my bedroom because I could not bear to look at the towers on fire. I will never forget my mother telling me that before I lowered the shades, she saw helicopters above the World Trade Center towers trying to weave their way to rescue the people hanging out of the windows. I will never forget that they weren’t able to.
To this day, I remember what NYC smelled like that day and would smell for weeks and months afterwards. I have some consolation that my children don’t remember that smell, and hope they never do.
I remember thinking that day that we all know someone is most likely dead right now, or will be soon. I was right.
My phone rang nonstop. My husband called from Paris, frantic. Friends called from Italy, family from Russia. Expat friends emailed from the Czech Republic and Thailand, saying that this is the most patriotic they’d felt in years. Months later Canadian friends who’d lived in New York City for decades, applied for U.S. citizenship.
We all stood together.
And then, time passed.
Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe that the whole world didn’t end on that terrible day, but if we’re lucky life goes on. As it should, of course.
Except last week middle schoolers were thrown out of the 9/11 Memorial for tossing trash and baseballs into the reflecting pool.
That’s right, the space that is meant to be for reflection and remembering was being used as a garbage dump. No, not by three-year-olds who don’t know better. By middle schoolers.
Don’t worry, though, they weren’t being disrespectful. They were just bored. Because remembering people who were murdered by terrorism is not that entertaining.
I could say that I am disgusted. Or discouraged. Or sad. I am all those things, of course. But I am also deeply concerned.
I am concerned that these middle schoolers, these tweens, have absolutely no understanding of the world in which they live.
I am concerned that children get to middle school (MIDDLE SCHOOL!) without knowing that you can’t litter, regardless where you are.
I am concerned that their preoccupation with their entertainment, the constant quest with boredom-busting, is contributing the unbridled narcissism.
I am concerned that these are the people who were alive at the time of the worst terrorist attack in the United States and as eyewitnesses to it, should really know better.
And if they are doing these things, if they cannot be respectful, then what hope is there for future generations?
We can do better.
We have to.