It’s the American way

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“Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let the pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.”

With the 12th anniversary of 9/11, I find myself back in the classroom. While every other anniversary since 2001, I have also found myself in a classroom (with the exception of last year), this year has a completely different feel. Not only do I find myself in the position of a teacher rather than a student, the entire feeling of the classroom is different. These kids were 2 or 3, maybe 4 or 5 at the most the day that our nation fell under attack. They weren’t old enough to know or remember what was going on. We were. We remember the fear we saw in the adults eyes, the confusion in our classmates. We remember our realization that we — our beloved country — was the victim of a terrible act of violence. It was the first act of major violence that some of us had ever encountered. And we remember. Most days we remember, but especially on September 11th. We remember where we were, what we were wearing, who was sitting to our left and who was sitting to our right.

I find myself feeling angry that these kids don’t seem to care or even seem to really know what this day represents. Not only today do I find myself feeling this way, but I find myself feeling this way a lot of days when we’re standing saying the pledge and instead of mirroring the proudness in my voice when I boldly say “one nation, under God…” all I hear is silence. While they know to stand, they don’t know to care. And why should they? They weren’t really there. Alive? Yes. But actually experiencing it? No. While my generation and those generation older, found ourselves wanting to (as Toby Keith proudly preached) “put a boot in their ass,” and stand tall and proud for America, the younger generations completely missed this. Their innocense wasn’t yet broken by the knowledge that someone would want to hurt innocent people simply because they were American. 

When I visited the Newseum in D.C. this past Spring, I was able to experience the 9/11 Memorial part of which featured a short documentary interviewing journalists and people who were in New York when the towers fell. I cried. I was angry. I sat through more than one showing of it. While this was an emotional journey for me, it wasn’t one for the young teenagers there on a school trip. It was just another boring video they had to sit through about things they didn’t know about and therefore didn’t really care about. Probably similar to how I felt in most of my history classes. I wanted to yell at them and try and explain why they should care, which is what I find myself wanting to do during 2nd block most days. But it’s hard to explain to someone why they should care about something when they don’t.

For me, 9/11 is not only a poignant reminder of the innocent and brave who lost their lives that day but also a reminder of how hate and violence is never really the answer. When the towers fell, we didn’t fall. We stood up stronger and more united. We wanted to show those that wanted to hurt us and did hurt us that we could and did stand back up. It’s also a reminder to not reach for hate or let the hate of others affect our ability to love or become pessimistic of the motives of others. While yes, there are truly evil people out there, not every person is evil. For every terrible person there are thousands of more good people filled with love. 

So I ask you, on this day, instead of to be filled with hatred towards those who caused such senseless deaths, to instead be filled with love for those who risked their lives and are still risking their lives today. Be filled with love for the innocent that were lost and the families and friends they left behind. Be filled with love for those younger than you who don’t understand the meaning of America yet. Be filled with love for the idiot driver next to you or the rude lady checking you out at the grocery store today. Because while yes they might be an idiot and they might be rude, they’re also Americans who experienced 9/11 in a way that resembles yours more than you probably realize. 

Tell the people in your life you love them and appreciate them today and mean it. You never know how much time you actually have left with them. Honor the victims of 9/11 with love, not hate for others. Be proud but not bitter. We’re America. The home of the brave. And as Mr. Keith would say “it’s the American way.”

This video is from the movie Remember Me, which I think is one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking movies I have ever seen. The main character is Tyler and basically the movie begins and he’s the typical messed up kid who doesn’t get along with his dad, gets in fights, womanizer, not many friends, etc. etc. etc. But by the end he’s met THE girl and gotten his life together and somewhat made ammends with the people in his life. But then… 9/11. And this is the final scene.

Whatever you do in life will be
insignificant but it is very
important that you do it because…
You can’t know…
You can’t ever really know the
meaning of your life…
And you don’t need to…
Just know that your life has a meaning…
Every life has a meaning… whether
it lasts one hundred years or one
hundred seconds…
Every life… And every death… changes the world in its own way…
Ghandi knew this. He knew his life would mean something to someone, somewhere, somehow.
And he knew with as much certainty that he
could never know that meaning…
He understood that enjoying life
should be of much greater concern
then understanding it.
And so do I.
You can’t know…
So don’t take it for granted…
But don’t take it too seriously…
Don’t postpone what you want…
Don’t leave anything misunderstood…
Make sure the people you care about know…
Make sure they know how you really feel…
Because just like that… it could end.

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