Most of the time children believe that time began with them. They cannot imagine a world they did not exist in and they cannot wrap their heads around things being any other way (I suppose most adults are that way too…). But, there are a few moments when they can realize the truth of things – that the world was here before them and all experiences are not wrapped up in their memories.
The realization that my parents (and grandparents for that matter) had, in fact, lived and experienced things before me came while hearing where they were on certain historical days. It was weird to listen to them, see the emotion they were still feeling after many years, and to think that they had experienced some sort of tragedy that I couldn’t comprehend on the same level they had. I would hopefully not ever know what it was like to have a president assassinated while the nation watched on tv. I would hopefully never know what it was like to have our nation bombed and live through war. I would not ever understand crossing a country in an old car on borrowed tires. These were experiences parents and grandparents could tell me about, but could never fully share with me.
When I think back on the fateful morning of 9/11 – I realize that even though my oldest son was born – he will never remember that day the way I do, and my twins will certainly never understand the horror that I felt as I watched the tv monitors. The desire that someone would call out “just kidding” or that odd feeling of guilt for stepping away from the tv to do anything other than watch in horror as tragedy unfolded.
I remember we had a rough night the night before with our oldest. He had a cold and had been up off and on all night. My husband had to work early so I was sleeping. When the phone rang I got up and answered it. It was my husband telling me to turn on the tv. When I did – I couldn’t stop watching. I went to my mom’s and we spent the day there. My sisters were there too. It was just the natural gathering place, I suppose. I know I will never forget that day, the emotions, the simple awe & terror at something so horrible. And, while I will never forget it – it will be difficult to ever explain something like that to my children in a way that will make them even begin to comprehend. I pray they will never have their own experience with such horrible things – something that marks them (and an entire nation) in such a way that it can never be erased. But, I am also well aware that each generation seems to have their moments and it shapes them, for better or worse, into what they become.
What actually matters is not how we convince the next generation of the horror of each of those moments – we may or may not be able to do that. But, how we live after those events, how they shape us as people, as a family and as a nation is something that our next generation can understand. Remembering, honoring, and sharing is important for that simple reason.