By Brittany Dekorte
Like many of those who were young on Sept. 11, 2001, I have memories of a school day interrupted. At the time, I was a first grader at Sheldon Woods Elementary near Holland. My class, along with the other classes in the long brick building, were ushered into the school’s combination cafeteria/gymnasium/auditorium. The smiling painted faces of children holding hands was painted on the wall, staring at us as we sat on the wood floors.
My principal didn’t tell us exactly what happened. His name was Mr. Ramirez, and he was near retirement, a Hispanic man in a crowd of white rural children. All that he said was that the country was facing a great loss, and that people were confused and afraid. Like he had at other assemblies, he pulled out his acoustic guitar, and sang to us in Spanish. I don’t remember the lyrics, but I remember the calm it made me feel.
I remember after the calm, too. I remember crawling into my parents’ bed a few weeks later, telling them I had a nightmare of a plane crashing into my elementary school. I remember all the students coming into school late in the evening in December to make little clothespin angels, adorned with pipecleaner halos and messages of condolences for those who had lost family members when the towers came down.
Nearly half a year after the event, my little brother was born. More than once, for shock value, to make friends feel old, I’ve referenced his age in relation to 9/11. “He can drive now,” I say, “And he wasn’t even born when 9/11 happened.”
It’s strange to think that someone wouldn’t have strong memories related to this event. I suppose every major event comes with this; people who only remember the Challenger explosion through other people’s stories and grainy old news reels, or the fall of the Berlin Wall, or the Vietnam War. It’s strange to think that he, and others his age who will soon be coming to schools like Washtenaw Community College, will never know an airport without the TSA, an America without the Patriot Act, or a time that we weren’t at war.
The 9/11 attack is now being treated and taught as a historical event in school. It has passed from a recent event, to a moment in history.
But, as time goes on, things change. That’s the nature of the movement of time, the passage of generations. Things are forgotten, reshaped in memory, and things that once seemed novel and uncomfortable are forgettably normal to the new humans raised around it.
I can only hope that the way we, as a nation, continue to act in the wake of 9/11, is looked on favorably by future generations. We’ve made many mistakes, that’s been clear, but as those who were children become the adults who shape the world, I hope we can fix those mistakes and move the world into a brighter place.