September 11th · september 11th tribute

20 Years Later

I was shopping for dairy products at Wegmans last week. I checked the expiration date on a container of yogurt and noticed it said “September 11, 2021.” I returned the container to the shelf and dug deeper to find one with a different expiration date. Later would be preferred, but I didn’t care if it were earlier. Something has never sat well with me about buying food that expires on September 11th. 

As someone who lived in Manhattan on the clear morning it was attacked, it doesn’t feel like 20 years have passed. When I close my eyes and think back to that day, I can still remember the smoke clouding the blue sky from downtown. I can still see throngs of people walking silently, shoulder-to-shoulder, some covered in soot, up Third Avenue. I can still remember the blood banks politely turning away potential donors as night fell on Manhattan. I can still see it all because for me it wasn’t something I watched on the news. It was something I lived.

I worry the relevance of the 20th anniversary of September 11th is fading. Like many Americans who have vowed to never forget that day, I intentionally sheltered my daughter from the horrors of September 11th, 2001 until she was nearly eight. It wasn’t until I took her to the Freedom Tower in 2018 that I even spoke of that day with her. When we emerged from the Subway, I began talking about what used to be in the area. I showed her the memorial where the Twin Towers once stood. As I did, my throat tightened and tears streamed from my eyes. I learned, on that day, that talking about the bravery of New York’s Finest, New York’s Bravest, and ordinary New Yorkers who helped one another was the way to begin the dialogue. As much as I wanted to focus the conversation on heroism, she wanted to know why. Why would anyone fly planes into buildings? Unlike some of my former students, my daughter has no personal connections to that day since she was born nearly ten years after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001.

Each year, Two Writing Teachers Blog pauses to mark the events of September 11th, 2001. Since the anniversary falls on a Saturday this year, we won’t be pausing our regular blog posts since we only post on weekdays (except during the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge and when we have a blog series three times a year). As a result, I wanted to share some resources NOW — a little over two weeks in advance of September 11th — so you can have ample time to prepare how you’d like to mark that day with students or other children in your life.

As the 15th anniversary of September 11th approached, I compiled a post that included a variety of resources. Educators from around the country shared the ways in which they teach about September 11th to their students.That post included full-school programming and writing ideas, as well as links to videos and picture books you can read aloud. Click here to peruse that post now. 

I’ll close this post the same way as I closed the post five years ago. Here’s an excerpt from a moving article about September 11th, written by Jordana Horn, that still resonates with me today.

But the thing that was truly lost on September 11, that no memorial will ever commemorate and that nothing will ever bring back, is the rainy New York day of September 10, 2001. On that prosaic day, we yelled at our dry cleaners for losing our shirts, and went to work pissed off. We ordered Chinese takeout and tipped the delivery guy extra for having biked through the dark, wet night. We ran out of shampoo, and wrote it down on a shopping list for the next day.

On September 10, 2001, our “problems” were amazingly, beautifully small and mundane. Because on that day, there was nothing to remember, and we had no idea how grateful we should have been.