I pray that they’ll never understand

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

September 11, 2017

As a child of the ‘80s, I understood that the adults in my life talked about the Kennedy assassination and the bombing of Pearl Harbor differently than any other story about the old days.

I’d beg for stories of these events as a grammar school kid with a love for history. Every time, it was a real story—a story that often showed a person in a different light. Someone who smiled a lot would turn heavy-hearted. A grumpy person became reflective. A talkative, easy storyteller quickly became someone of few words.

As a tiny little historian, I knew about those events and the gravity of them, but thinking back, what I naively yearned to understand was how these tragedies made people feel so sad and reflective so many years later. Of course, as a product of the world that was changed by those moments in time, it was impossible to fully comprehend the loss of “what we had been.”

This all flashed in my mind this morning as tears glossed up my eyes and my heart jumped into my throat, reflecting on this day sixteen years ago.

For the last handful of years, I’ve been in the classroom on this date—and have tried to give young people some insight… to help them understand. I pray that they never will.

I wrote this on September 11, 2015, after an intense class.

For this year’s college freshmen— about 60 of whom I’m honored to teach– September 11th is a history lesson. They were too little to know what was going on that day.

I think our most important job in talking about 9/11 to people who don’t remember is to convey the emotion.

What it felt like to watch that on TV.

To pray as people jumped and the towers went down and for all those men and women who rushed in to help.

What it felt like to be as numb and as helpless and as angry and as sad as you ever have.

What it felt like to wonder if we were at the brink of global nuclear war. To wonder if our city was next.

To wonder how different our lives would be going forward.
Our coming together as a nation.

What it felt like to see things start to return to “normal,” and how uncomfortable that felt.

Textbooks will make sure the facts aren’t forgotten… It’s up to us to talk about how deeply it touched every single American, and for each of these young people to understand that we saw the inconceivable worst as well as the mind numbing best of our country that day.

Some piece of America within each of us died that day, and some new part was born. It’s hard to talk about, and hard to come to grips with, but that’s the thing future generations can only learn from each one of us.

 

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Steve Cichon

Steve Cichon is a proud Buffalonian helping the world experience the city he loves. The operator of Buffalo Stories Tours writes about the people, places, and ideas that make Buffalo special at blog.buffalostories.com and daily at buffalonews.com/history. The storyteller and historian has written six books, worn bow ties since the 80s, and spent 20 years working in Buffalo radio and TV, climbing his way to news director at WBEN Radio. Since then, he's been an adjunct professor and produced PBS documentaries. Steve's Buffalo roots run deep: all eight of his great-grandparents called Buffalo home, with his first ancestors arriving here in 1827.