Recently, I took the kids to the Newseum for the first time. I had been once before, with H., but the kids hadn’t been. One reason is that it has an admission fee, something we are spoiled about not having to usually pay in this city full of free museums. Another was that the exhibits seemed a little mature for them and I wasn’t sure how much they would enjoy or get out of it. But free admission for kids in August combined with a French exchange student who was interested in going were reasons enough to go. It turned out to be a great day. C., our student was fascinated by most of the exhibits and there was a lot to keep the boys interested.
One of the most moving exhibits they have at the Newseum is on 9/11. It looks at the day from the perspective of the journalists who covered the story. There are some fairly graphic parts to the exhibit, including a video presentation. I appreciated that the arrangement is such that you can avoid those parts if you desire. There were things I didn’t think the boys were ready to see so we stayed back and waited for C.
As we waited, I realized that I had never really told either boy about 9/11. It wasn’t so much an intentional avoidance as that I had never really had a reason to bring it up. And with John only being seven, I hadn’t felt like it was something he needed to know about yet. But there we were in front of an exhibit with a photo timeline of the events of that horrific day. So I started looking at the photos with John and explaining to him what they showed (these were photos that were traumatic if you knew the events but not necessarily graphic if you didn’t know what you were looking at). I hadn’t really thought about doing this ahead of time so I hadn’t thought much about what to say. In the end, that might have been a good thing. It was a fairly natural way to have a difficult discussion. One thing that surprised me was that as I told John about the events of that day I found myself getting choked up. I’m not a particularly emotional person and I didn’t know anyone personally who died that day. However, I realized as I told him about it that none of us who were alive on that day will ever be able to remember it without emotion.
What I realized afterward was that 9/11 will never be more than an exhibit in a museum to my kids. Or a horrible story in a book. They will hear about it and study the events of that day and the aftermath but it will never be any more real to them than Pearl Harbor and World War II were to me. I realized there is a line and they are firmly in the generation on the other side. They will always be defined as “the post 9/11 generation”. In a weird way I find this gives me hope. Maybe it’s just that out of the ashes there is a generation that runs and jumps and blows bubbles and rides bikes and dances and loves unaware of how lucky they are to be doing all those things. No matter how horrific the past, there is always a future.
I’ve thought about whether or not we should find some way to set aside today as a day of remembering. Mostly for us, it will appear to be just another day. We’ll go to church. H. and I are going on a date in the afternoon. John has a baseball game in the evening. However, in reality it’s more than just another day and it always will be. As we go about our day and remember, we’ll be full of sadness. But not just sadness. We’ll go to church and the movies and baseball aware of how lucky we are to be doing those ordinary things. We’ll kiss our kids and tuck them in at night and be grateful for the future sleeping in the other room.