Children don't know life prior to 9/11

September 12, 2011

If you are the parent, grandparent, sibling or older friend of a high school student, you are in a position to start a conversation today about how different the world was before Sept. 11, 2001, and why we’re spending so much time remembering that awful day when a terror attack brought us to an emotional standstill.

I read somewhere recently that many young people are dismissing all the talk about the memorials that are the center of attention today in New York, Washington, Pennsylvania and all across the nation. Exactly 10 years after terrorists forced commercial airplanes to crash into the gut of some of the nation’s most significant centers of financial and military populations and, we suspect, could have done more damage if not for the heroics of passengers over a field in Pennsylvania, how much do our children take for granted about how life was before that fateful day?

If you are about 17 years old or younger you probably don’t remember much about what happened, and some may be struggling to fully appreciate why life will stop today – in places of worship, in football stadiums, at the site of the attacks and perhaps even in homes – while we remember and pray for the loss of life and the loss of a way of life.

I talked to some young adults this week to get a sense of what they remember about life before 9/11.
It was a time when you could meet a friend at the airport and walk all the way to the gate to greet them as they got off the plane. There was no process for showing ID and boarding passes outside the gate area. There were no searches of carry-on bags and luggage, laptops didn’t have to be inspected and nobody cared what was in our shoes.

Despite the lingering sadness about 9/11, some commercial ventures were able to rise out of the despair. All you have to do is go to your neighborhood drugstore and check out the expanded rows of travel-size items that allow travelers to easily purchase small amounts of toothpaste, shampoos, lotions for air travel because we’re now limited to small bottles that, presumably, would limit the ability to take or make a lethal concoction behind airport security. Even high-end products such as fancy colognes now come in pricey one-ounce containers. Schools and public meetings are paying for more security to help protect lives.

Young people don’t remember a time when mail was not a threat, or when packages were not scrutinized in the mail rooms of businesses – or the halls of Congress – due to concern about dangerous deliveries. Children today may even realize that “anthrax scare” was not in their parents’ vocabulary when we were kids.

The Postal Service recognizes that chances are slim that they will deliver potentially dangerous packages, but they still warn for vigilance, as evidenced by this warning on the USPS website: “The chance that you will receive a bomb through the mail is about 1 in a billion. Nonetheless . . . be aware of the proper guidelines to handle such incidents.”

Children don’t remember a time when U.S. troops were not at war. Some of them may know that their parents served in Desert Storm, but they may assume that the state of war is just, well, normal — a never-ending fact of life.

Who above the age of about 17 does not recall where they were and what they were doing when they heard about the 9/11 attacks, much like those of us who are old enough remember what we were doing when President Kennedy or Martin Luther King were fatally shot.

Children today, mercifully, don’t have such memories – yet. And they may not fully appreciate why we pause to remember.

Today, in this newspaper and newspapers across the nation, many of the artists who draw comics also remember 9/11. If your children are not reading these opinion pages, maybe you should point them to the comics so they can see the tributes in a familiar format.

There, like many of Americans today, Dagwood, Blondie and all the characters, with hands on their hearts, are observing a moment of silence in tribute to those who fell on Sept. 11, 2001.