When You’re the Only One in the Room Who Remembers

This has been going on since humans existed.

Suddenly, you are the only one who remembers that event, the one that is seared into national memory. The one we stop for, pause for, go silent for.

If you teach anyone younger than 14, they were not born. If you teach anyone younger than 18, they likely do not remember.

I remember. I remember exactly where I was 14 years ago today.

September 11, 2001.

I was at my high school, playing soccer in gym class, aware only of the next field hockey game and that the grass needed to be mowed.


Until she came out the side door, tears streaming down her face, to tell us the news.

Until we sat, silently, in each class. Not so much learning, as going through the motions. Watching the news, checking on family members, praying, worrying, grieving.

Last year, as I wrote the date on the board, I wondered if it would always be this way.

The momentary pause before writing the 11. The mental math of how many years it had been. The knowledge that my students will never understand what it is like to see a plane hit a tower in real time, and then watch it over and over and over.

Unless you are a teacher, and then you teach. If you happen to be a military spouse and a teacher, you teach twice as hard and you teach it with personal stories.

You teach compassion for others and understanding of differences. You teach that words are better than bullets, always. Words are better than everything, except hugs. You teach tolerance and acceptance of others, without question or silent judgement, because a person’s religion or color has no bearing on the content of their character. You teach that actions speak louder than words.

You pause at 8:46, maybe without even realizing it. I was taking attendance, and so there was no teaching to do. Pausing was a natural break in the day.

You show gratitude. For those who serve our country. For first responders. For those who are missing someone at their table tonight. You show them the human face of war, or the animal face if that works better.

Teaching about September 11 is never, and will never be, easy. It shouldn’t be. It should make us pause. But we can teach about it without showing those graphic images to our children. Why make them repeat the pain that we experienced? Instead:

  • Invite a veteran or active duty Soldier/Marine/Sailor/Air Man to speak
  • Invite a police officer, EMT, or fire fighter to speak
  • Read a book about acceptance
  • Make a unity banner showing how everyone in the class is different AND the same
  • Discuss the effects of war, hatred, and intolerance with your student at their level
  • Virtually visit the 9/11 Memorial at the Pentagon or Ground Zero,

The most important thing is that we remember what intolerance and violence can do to this country and this world, what we as a species are doing to each other all the time. We have to be the people who educate our future on peace and acceptance and unconditional love of our fellow man.

Let’s start now.


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2 thoughts on “When You’re the Only One in the Room Who Remembers

  1. I teach 18 to 22-year-olds. They were between 4 and 8 years old on “9/11,” and hard as it is to believe, would also barely remember. I chose not to mention it in class today for that reason. Your post makes me realize the missed opportunity. I could teach about it anyway. It’s a perfect time for conversation about compassion, tolerance, sameness and difference, heroism, gratitude, and peace. I want a ‘do-over’ for today’s class after reading your words. Thank you.


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