Today marks the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy in New York City. As we were driving from Ontario to Winnipeg the last two days it seemed every radio station we tuned into was having some sort of news recap, interview, panel discussion, or call-in show about the tragedy. People were asked to phone in to radio stations and explain where they were when they heard the news of the terrorist attacks, and how they had felt and responded. I was a columnist for both the Winnipeg Free Press and The Carillon at the time and so I went back and looked at the columns I had written during the week of 9/11 ten years ago.
My Carillon column focused on young children. I was teaching grade four at the time and my students were full of curiosity and worry. For many days following the tragedy, I had to set aside time each morning to answer their questions and listen to their concerns. Many kids were watching the images of the crash into the Twin Towers over and over because there was simply nothing else on television. Psychologists warned this wasn’t healthy and encouraged parents to turn off the television or engage children in other more creative activities. By a week after the event, the children were already asking when their familiar television programs would come back on the air since all regular programming had been pre-empted for 9/11 coverage.
Along with many other North American educational institutions my school district mandated a moment of silence in schools on September 14th. When I asked my students whom they might think of in a special way at that time, they had lots of great ideas. “Kids” was their first response. They felt sorry for the children travelling on the planes that crashed. They were sad for the boys and girls whose parents had died in the destroyed buildings.
In my Free Press column, I also talked about my students and how they had provided a great distraction on September 11. I found out about the terrorist attacks when I went to the staff room at recess time, but the kids unaware of what was happening pulled me along through our normal routine of math problems, lunch, singing and story reading. The world might be in crisis but the class hamster still needed feeding, one of my students threw up, another wanted a hug, two girls who were best friends were having a fight and I had to mediate. The kids forced me to remember that no matter what happens life goes on.
My Free Press article also talked about the service I attended with my husband Dave and our son at Steinbach Mennonite Church the evening of September 11. It was open to the community and included Scripture passages, individual, small group and corporate prayer. We sang hymns of hope. Together we recited St. Francis of Assisi’s Lord Make Me an Instrument of your Peace. Just before we left the sanctuary we each lit a taper from the Christ candle at the front of the church. It was a symbol of our hope that the light of God’s love would illuminate the lives of troubled and grieving people everywhere. It felt good to have been at church with my husband and my teenage son. After watching hours of disturbing and graphic television coverage of the disaster, we needed a “time out” as a family, to reflect and refocus.
9/11 is one of those events that is so historically significant most of us can remember the day quite clearly. Perhaps these vivid memories are a good thing because they save us from complacency and inspire us to work towards a peaceful resolution of conflict.