The Things We Don't Mention (in Polite Company)

Never forget, they say. A firefighter pays tribute with his bagpipe. Names are read aloud. People tell their stories.

9/11 once felt like my tragedy - in a generational sense, anyway. I was 22, finishing college and working. I can remember that day exactly. Clear blue skies, low humidity. Perfect Pittsburgh weather. I had worked late the evening before, recruiting college students to be tutors in my reading program (some things never change), and I slept in and turned on the news while I ate my breakfast. The first plane had just hit. When the second plane hit, I guess it didn't really sink in, because after watching the news anchors stumble through their reports, I got dressed and walked to work. After the other two planes crashed we were all sent home from work. The streets were gridlocked, so I walked to M's apartment. We watched the towers fall down, over and over again, on the television. Eventually, we couldn't take it anymore and we went out and bought a case of beer. We took a small American flag with us and waved it out the car window as we drove. Because we were 22 and it was a national tragedy, and some of the initial reports had estimates of up to 50,000 casualties.

I didn't much think about it today. I posted a silly picture of Marko on Facebook, and took Laurel to gymnastics and chatted with a friend. I don't know anybody who died that day, and after 12 years and two wars and a whole bunch of other people who died, it just seems a little overwhelming...all this remembering we are compelled to do because human beings still suck at getting along with each other. Maybe that's not the right way to be, but that's how I was.

The other day a 17 year old boy was shot and left to die near a school that I'm working at this year. At another school, the children no longer go outside for recess because there are too many daytime shootings nearby. There will be candles lit at vigils for all of this one-at-a-time violence. T-shirts printed and tattoos inscribed. I was worried that my high school kids would feel nervous or their parents wouldn't want them to work for me after all, but they just laughed and said, "you just hit the ground when they start shooting. Don't run, Ms. Katy."

The thing is, these tragedies that are not exactly mine, and I feel funny bringing them up. What is mine to mourn? What is mine to challenge? Do I have the right and responsibility to stand up against all acts of violence? Or should I just hit the proverbial ground and hope nothing hits me directly?

When I tucked my kids in tonight I realized they had no idea what today was, and even when they grow up and read a Times For Kids news article on it, it will be like Pearl Harbor Day was to me. Something bad that happened to some other people. An event in the social studies books.

But what happens when we stop talking about it? Or when we save the discussion for the anniversaries that roll around once a year and remind us that we're getting further and further from the rawness of the event.

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