Every year on September 11 I pause and reflect on that tragic day. I wear an American Flag pin and usually shed some tears. For many of us, the memories of the events will always be raw, and we can remember where we were when we heard, how old we were, and most importantly, what life was like before the attacks. Me? Senior in high school, second hour in AP Stats class. I will never forget the look on Mr. Newman’s face when he came in and told Mr. Buckless to turn on the TV.
Every year, we mourn the loss of life in New York, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania, and every year, we also mourn the loss of innocence that we collectively experienced. My friends and I were suddenly introduced to the world in which our differences could drive unthinkable acts that are all too commonplace today. As parents, we are often faced with how to explain world events to our children, especially when they are young, especially when they are innocent, and especially when we have no reference point for what it was like before.
My daughters are still too young to understand why September 11 is such an important day in our history, and honestly, they may not understand it until they experience their generation’s version of tragedy. Instead of dwelling on the aspects that are emotional for me, I will use September 11 to celebrate our values: bravery, service, freedom, love, and the like. I won’t ignore the facts of the day, but rather than that being the focus, I will direct our collective energy on a more positive pursuit. There will be other days to mourn so we will use September 11 to honor, reflect, and serve.
How will I do that? Since Technically this day is Patriot’s Day and National Day of Service and Remembrance, this year, I plan to have my daughter draw pictures that we can turn into thank you cards to be sent to our local fire and police stations. As my girls get older, we can collect supplies for the military, clean up the park by our house, or bake cookies and deliver them to a local church or mosque. We will also spend time reflecting on our uniquely American values.
Whether September 11, Paris, Charlottesville, Burkina Faso, the Philippines, or Iran the world grieves the loss of innocent life. We embrace diversity and flatly reject the hate that leads to that loss. Are these events innocence shattering? Of course. But while mourning, you can set a positive example to demonstrate our values to your children and explain why we reject hate and extol the virtues of love. Only in this way can we help build a different world for our children, something more beautiful than what we have.