Most people who were born sometime in the late 1990s and before can vividly remember the horrible scenes of the attack in New York on the World Trade Towers as well as the attack at the Pentagon and the plane crash in Shanksville, PA. Nearly 3000 people died that day along with our belief that we were somehow invulnerable to attacks by foreign countries. For most of us the world became a less safe place. At the same time our sense of patriotism soared as we experienced a deep desire to care for those left behind and support efforts to prevent such horrific actions from ever happening again.
Those of us who remember the attacks on 9/11 can be surprised when we talk to children and teenagers and even people in their 20s who have no such memories. The longer time goes by, the more people will not directly remember what happened that day.
This seems to be true about history in general. In recent months there have been many historical events: the Covid epidemic, the end of the war in Afghanistan, the racial injustice all over the country. Most of us can personally recall and even experience flashbacks when these historical events are brought up. But time will pass and it won’t be long before young children and those not yet born will become adults who will not have these memories.
It is vitally important for those of us who experience important historical events to keep the memories alive and pass that information on to younger generations who do not have first-hand experiences. Why? Not to evoke feelings of shock, heartbreak, despair, disgust, fear or anger, which can be very legitimate reactions. It is rather to honor lives that were lost along with any harm done to innocent people. It’s also to learn important lessons about what we need to avoid as well as what we need to do to promote healing and continue to raise our collective moral compasses.
I’d like to share an important quote, capturing the importance of sharing historical moments that have impacted how we view the world and our deep desires to make the world a better place: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We can all be a part of the process of keeping memories alive.
We are fortunate enough to have immediate access to incredible amounts of historic data on just about every subject imaginable. Of course, it is essential for us to be critical thinkers and careful consumers of information, to recognize opinions versus facts and notice when information is distorted in order to persuade people to share their beliefs that may not be founded on accurate information. These too are lessons we need to teach our young people and be very mindful ourselves to not be gullible. Just because something shows up when we Google it does not make it true and some sources may not be giving a complete picture of a historic event. Because it is in print does not mean it is accurate information.
We can honor all the many victims of 9/11, those who literally died that day, those who lost loved ones and all of us emotionally devastated by the images burned in our memories by committing to passing along our stories. We can share those stories with the children and young people in our lives in order to both teach and inspire them. We can learn so much by history: those things we want to prevent in the future, those things we need to honor because of the sacrifices people made to give us a better life today, and the many ways those dedicated continue to give their lives to the betterment of humanity.
By sharing history with children and young adults, whether done formally or informally, we can make a difference in their lives. We need to make sure schools teach accurate and complete history and we need to make sure whatever we are passing along tells the whole story.
By sharing history, we experience the privilege of honoring those who have come before us, those who have sacrificed their lives, those who had been martyred or treated unjustly, and those who have dedicated themselves to improving the world. By learning about them and passing along these history lessons, we can each make a difference in lives and in how we learn and grow as a result of the lessons of history. We need to remember the past so we do not repeat mistakes or the cruelty and injustice history reveals.
Invitation for Reflection
• Do you have personal memories of 9/11? Where were you and what do you recall?
• What can you pass along to the young people in your life who do not have these memories? What can we teach them about 9/11?
• When you think about your lifetime, what are some other significant historic moments that you could share with children and young people?
• What are some of the events that happened before you were born that you could benefit from learning about?
Diane Wagenhals, Director, Lakeside Global Institute