September 11 marks, almost exactly, the halfway point of my life. I was 15-years-old, in my sophomore English class, when we watched, live, the second plane hit Tower Two. I wouldn’t know it then—stomach dropping, goosebumps, unable to know what to say—but it was, and continues to be, the most significant cultural, and deeply personal, event of my life.
The following year included a number of firsts: a job as a bank teller, reading complex philosophical books, sex, pot, and the death of my only grandmother.
I don’t pretend to believe that 9/11 led to any of these personal events—it’s about the age we start waking up to the world anyway—but it was a jarring time and impacted me in ways I’ll never quite understand. I perceived the world through eyes of detachment. The news media began its increasing fear mongering that today echoes from the past in a whisper before making its way through the TV screen of today in a scream.
I suppose each generation has a jarring event or two that impacts each of us in that eerie existential way: World War Two, Korea, the Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinations, Vietnam, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War. The list reminds of Billy Joel’s song, “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” It really does go on and on and on.
But the events of September 11, 2001 strike me as distinctly different.
In The Skyscraper and the Airplane, an essay by Adam Goodheart published in the Winter of 2002, he writes,
In a thousand years, anyone who knows anything at all about us, the ancient Modern Americans, will probably know about the skyscraper and the airplane, and about the bright September morning that welded them together.
It seems that there’s no resolution to that sense of fear that is coated with the paint on the technologies that we used to trust so blindly, and the people who have access to them. And like the ocean, the waves continue to crash against shores around the globe.
Every year, I ask myself how to approach teaching my students at Old Dominion University about the event, and how to write about the fusion of cultural and personal tragedy. The circumstances are distinctly different from when I began teaching eight years ago. These students, true freshman and sophomores and juniors, have no memory of that sunny September morning.
I struggle with bringing such a personal attachment to the event, as so many of us have, to the classroom. I grew up in New Jersey, the Towers in my backyard, the event in the shadows of my past that I can’t seem to get away from.
I’ll do what I feel obligated to do: show the CNN coverage that morning, some of my students having never seen it, and I’ll teach Goodheart’s essay, which attempts to put into perspective the unlikely rise of two technologies that few, if any, ever expected to meet in such “a fatal kiss.”
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