On Monday, I went to the 9/11 anniversary ceremony at the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, Pa. One of the most striking scenes of the day to me was not the chiming of bells or even Vice President Mike Pence on the verge of tears as he said he credited the passengers of Flight 93 with saving his life. The scene which struck me most deeply was watching a park ranger speak to a group of middle schoolers who were there on a field trip. Let me explain.
I was only 7 years old on September 11, 2001, but I understood what was going on, remember it vividly, and read about it voraciously as I got older. I always felt a special bond to the story of Flight 93. But for those kids I saw today, 9/11 is to them an event like the Cold War or the JFK assassination is to me — a momentous, transformative moment from recent history that my parents remember vividly with great emotion but that I will never feel a deep personal connection to.
When my mom first took me to the Flight 93 Memorial in 2006, it was a makeshift collection of wooden benches carved with the passengers’ names and a couple chain link fences filled with flags, rosaries, magnets and other mementos left by visitors, and a simple wooden cross. The visitors’ center consisted of a tiny shed with a guestbook and was staffed by a local community resident. Back then, there was no need for a fancy museum or memorial because everybody who went there already understood deeply what had happened there.
Now the memorial is a sprawling campus complete with huge marble memorials, a museum, educational programs, and dozens of staffers to educate these kids and their kids in the decades to come. A whole new generation of young people, some of whom are now of voting age, does not remember — and may have not even been alive for — 9/11/01. Our memory is becoming history.
Don’t let 9/11 become just another chapter in a history textbook. Tell your kids and younger siblings about 9/11. Tell them where you were and what you felt. Show them the movies and documentaries (Inside 9/11 and United 93 come to mind as the best) and the tapes of live TV coverage as it happened, even and especially if it’s painful to watch. Don’t let “never forget” become another cliche — live and teach that motto, and make it mean something.