Fifteen years can be the blink of an eye.
It can also be a lifetime, a world of difference between then and now.
America is not the same place that it was on Sept. 10, 2001. The world isn’t the same place.
And we are not the same people.
A daylong exercise in unfolding horror changed everything, breaking history into what came before and what came after.
Today’s high school students have grown up in a world where 911 has one meaning, but 9/11 has another. Kids in junior high know of Sept. 11 the same way that I know about the Kennedy assassination or my mother knows Pearl Harbor or my grandmother knew about the Titanic. They are horrible touchstones that are far too close, and yet just outside our grasp.
For younger children, the gap is wider. Parents are left with conflicting paths. We want our kids to know what happened so they can honor those lives lost in New York, Washington and a southern Pennsylvanian field.
But at the same time, we want to protect them. We know what it was like to feel scared and lost and angry. We didn’t feel safe when it happened, and in some ways, we haven’t really felt safe since. We don’t want that for them.
We can’t change the world that was born 15 years ago on an otherwise unremarkable Tuesday morning.
We can’t forget it either.
What we can try to do is change the narrative.
Every day, amazing things happen because bad things happened and people weren’t content to let that be the legacy. We can choose not to focus on the loss but the lessons we learn from the lost.
I want to teach my son about Sept. 11 not by focusing on the architects of the horror. They don’t deserve the power that comes with being the boogeymen in his nightmares.
I want to focus on the incomparable selflessness of the firefighters and police officers. The people on Flight 93 who chose to fight back rather than become a weapon. The soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and first responders since the tragedies of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and Shanksville who found inspiration for their life’s work in the sacrifices of that day.
I want better for the 2,507 civilians, the 72 law enforcement officers, the 343 firefighters and 55 military personnel whose lives ended in a mix of fire, fear, duty and honor. They deserved long lives, and failing that, they deserve to be more than the nameless victims of 19 murderers.
I want their deaths and their sacrifices to be tied, instead, to the acts of remarkable strength, commitment and courage that began that day, some by them and some in their names since, and which will, hopefully, continue to grow exponentially.
That’s what I want my son to remember about the day he never saw.