The Wide Angle: Remember 9/11 in a new way

Published 5:37 pm Tuesday, September 12, 2023

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Twenty-two years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, we’re still living with its effects; where we were and most importantly we remember the nearly 3,000 people who died early in the morning hours that day.

As the nation woke up to a tragedy that would change, it is worth noting that in some ways we are still waking up from that morning.

Scars like that rarely heal quickly.

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The day will forever be worth the time of remembrance. Time itself has a habit of eliciting change over its continued movement forward. It requires it really, and how we approach the memories of 9/11 is really no different.

During the school’s prayer service Monday morning, chair of the school’s Social Studies Department, Nicholas McGrath, noted how time has required teachers to take a different track in order to observe that remembrance. Many of us remember the sites and sounds that came over the airways as we watched in live horror the assault on our freedoms.

We remember vividly, as principal Paula Ziems did, where we were standing the moment we personally realized what was happening. These attacks were unprecedented in their scope and audacity and shook a country’s people who thought that we were untouchable.

That we were beyond such acts of terror.

But while we remember the scenes of people fleeing the collapse of the towers, the Pacelli sixth-grader does not. For them and all school-aged students, it is now a moment inscribed in history textbooks. Something that needs to be learned from reading and watching, rather than the experience itself.

This is the second year of Pacelli’s prayer service and I’ve been impressed with how McGrath and others at the school have approached the service.

The site of 2,977 American flags marking each person’s life lost in the attacks is simple, yet powerful. There is a weight to that demonstration that belies how small each individual flag. It’s poignant and stately and serves as a visual reminder for those who couldn’t have experienced that day just how important remembrance of it is.

The service is fairly straight forward in its presentation. Words from a principal, prayers of a father, history by a teacher, but as the words come out of each speaker they serve to augment the meaning of each individual flag planted on that lawn.

The students, standing out on a sunny cool morning in September, are getting more than some time outside of a classroom. They are receiving an experience of learning that a book can’t provide.

This year’s service, though, called for more and it’s the way that many of us should now consider passing the remembrance of this day along.

In his speech, McGrath talked about a mission-oriented approach to the day in order to further connect the kids to the event and to impress upon them just how important being a good American is.

More than just a chapter or two in a book, 9/11 had profound effects on the world and altered the state of relations of more than two groups of people.

These things need to be available to students these days and it’s up to teachers, like McGrath, to find ways to impart on them that what they learn about the day is more than an essay or questions on a test.

McGrath stressed the mission-orientated approach to hone and strengthen that connection.

As he put it: “It’s that idea that we have a job to do. Americans are exceptional in every way — it’s in service to thy neighbor. In service of our country. For the students, 9/11 means nothing to them without that mission piece.”

Even though they were not with us on the day the towers fell, the Pentagon was assaulted or the heroes of Flight 93 reacted, movements like this can truly cement the importance of 9/11. Again, as McGrath pointed out, he honors 9/12 because of how unified  we were in the wake of the attacks. We need to be there again, and by staking a mission in the hearts of students, the spirit of perseverance gleaned from 9/11 can continue to move forward and perhaps gain more steam. It will alter the experience, but in its own way, that experience remains and the lessons of 9/11 continue.

We will never forget, but the time has now come where we alter how we always will remember.