I walked in on my children talking about September 11th the other day. Most of my kids are still little, so it’s only my older two girls who really have a concept of what happened in 2001.
My middle child had said something about a bombing, and my oldest girl was in the middle of correcting him. “It wasn’t a bombing,” she said matter-of-factly, “Planes flew into buildings.”
I gathered them close and gave them more details; truth I believe they should know and respect for all the lives lost. I shared how I had been in high school when it happened. It was early in the day, we’d just sat down for American Government with one of my favorite teachers. He was late coming to class and when he did, he wheeled in a TV with him and turned on the news coverage.
We watched live as the second plane hit the second tower. One of my friend’s asked if the impact could collapse the two buildings. My teacher had said no; they were meant to withstand trauma. And then we watched, hours later, as both buildings crumbled.
I will never forget those images or the horror of that day. I remember the silence as we walked the hallways and sat through our classes, which were only continued coverage of what had happened. I sat closely with my friends, huddled in groups as we processed a terrorist attack on our own land, in our own country.
It’s a weight I’ve carried with me ever since, and a story I hope my children listen to and learn from.
As a child, I remember my mom’s version of a national crisis, one that almost exactly mirrors my own. President John F. Kennedy’s assassination happened while she was also in high school. They didn’t have TV coverage for students back then, but they played it over the radio and all the school listened.
Any time President Kennedy was brought up, I remember her somber retelling of what it was like to live through that — another American tragedy, another dark day for our country.
I called my mom up and asked her about her experience after I’d finished talking to my kids about 9/11. I wanted to hear her story as an adult, with ears that could truly process all the information. I was stunned at how similar our stories were. Silent hallways and high school kids that were banded together simply because they were American.
She said, after they’d learned Kennedy had died, her track coach had taken them on a run only to stop them under an overpass. She huddled them together and prayed — for our country, for the family, for everything. Another similarity of our two traumas — prayer. I remember vividly the prayers that were whispered throughout 9/11. For the families and victims, for our country, for everything.
A 2016 Pew Research Center study found that "Americans are primarily bound together by their generation and the major events that occurred during their formative years."
Defining moments per generation include World War II for the Silent and Greatest generations; the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the Vietnam War for Baby Boomers; and the 9/11 terror attacks and the Obama election for Millennials and Generation X.
After listening to my mom and recollecting my own experience, I’m scared for my children. I have hope, of course, that they will not have something monumental like either of those tragedies to mark their high school experience. My prayer is that they can get through those years unscathed by the horror of this world. Hopefully they will never know the starkly quiet walk through the halls as traumatized students try to process what has happened. Hopefully they will never sit in tightly huddled groups with their friends, mourning our nation. My mom and I have experienced enough high school horror for all of us.
Rachel Higginson is a married mom to five kids. She is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author who has received a Utopia Award for Best Contemporary Romance and Penned Con Award for Best Novella Series. She lives in Omaha.