Those of us old enough to remember the events of 9/11 can still recall how “We will never forget” became our mantra, serving to honor the memory of those lives lost. For many of us, that day is imprinted on our hearts in a way that we, indeed, will never be able to forget—whether it be because of personal losses suffered or from the disbelief and fear elicited as witnesses of the magnitude of this tragedy.
However, enough years have passed that students in school now were either not born yet or not old enough to remember the events of 9/11. It is hard for anyone who did not live through that day to understand the full scope of the emotions felt and the significant impact it had not only on our country, but on our individual lives.
September 11th is designated as Patriot Day and National Day of Service and Remembrance in honor of all the lives lost; but to some of our children today, this date may only be a chapter in a history book. The challenge to parents and educators then becomes how to transform letters on a page into a realization of the true significance of this day in our nation’s history.
As you attempt to explain 9/11 to your child, here are two truths to be learned from that day—lessons that extend beyond the news reports, textbooks, or facts associated with this tragedy. Obviously, all discussions should be tailored to the age and maturity of your individual child.
America is resilient.
A remarkable reaction that day was the unity, compassion, and strength that flowed through our country. Strangers cried together, held hands, ran to help each other, stood in lines to donate blood, and rallied together in a bond solidified through the tears shed by us all.
As deep and painful as our wounds were, a sense of brotherhood and unity swept over our nation in a way many of us may have never before seen in our lifetime. Above the black smoke and rubble, America still stood as a country ready for the long fight ahead of us and was still a shining beacon of hope and fortitude because of the spirit of our people.
Heroism lives within us.
In the days and weeks following September 11th, stories were told of countless heroes who emerged that day. Emergency personnel and first responders ran into buildings everyone else was running out of, some being aware they were likely running to their deaths. Co-workers turned around back into the smoke to save someone they heard calling for help. Brave young soldiers felt the call to serve and enlisted to help defend and protect the country they love.
The heroism demonstrated that day by so many is overwhelming and intimidating. What we have to remember is that these people woke up that morning just like the rest of us. They did not know what was to be asked of them in the next couple of hours, but when it came time, they summoned the courage needed and answered the call.
It is important while discussing the events of September 11th that you listen to the questions your child may ask. Children process events and information much differently than adults, so unanticipated concerns or questions may be raised. Do your best to respond to each of these and to ease any fears or worries they may have. Perhaps even have them color a picture or write a letter in order to express their thoughts and emotions after learning about this tragic yet courageous day.
To the innocent minds of children, it may be difficult for them to fully grasp and understand the significance of Patriot Day to our nation, and that’s OK. What they can learn, though, is that we live in a country that turned fear into bravery, and vulnerability into resiliency. They should realize that, just like the heroes of 9/11, being a citizen and a friend means helping those around you—volunteering in your community, being a kind neighbor and classmate, and being aware and concerned when they see a friend in need.
If you live near any of the September 11th memorials, Patriot Day is the perfect opportunity to take advantage of hands-on learning as your children are able to witness firsthand the tributes to the victims and heroes. Just as the legacy of these brave men and women will live on in these memorials, so the lessons of strength and heroism will live on in our hearts as “we never forget.”
May we indeed truly never forget the lives lost that tragic September day, and may this Patriot Day be spent soaking in the beauty all around us, celebrating the strength of our country, and cherishing every moment with our loved ones.