The Kids of 9/11 Bring Hope Out of Tragedy

9/11They call them the 9/11 generation. They're the kids who don't remember the assassination of JFK or the explosion of the Challenger as "the" moment when time stood still. They remember only September 11, 2001, when two planes flew into the World Trade Center and another into the Pentagon while a fourth was taken down by heroic passengers into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. And believe it or not, they're the good news of 9/11. There is such a thing.


Like most of the country -- maybe the world? -- I've been reading everything I can about 9/11 this week. In many ways it's reminded me of what life was like in the days after the tragedy. My husband and I would leave work on our shared lunch break and head home to turn on the TV. We'd eat in silence, our eyes fixed on the TV, hoping for something good to come out. A person found alive. A family reunited.

Of course, it never came.

That's where this week differs. I've watched TV. I've read the books. I've devoured media the way I did in that week. But something good has come. The kids are, as the saying goes, all right.

I say this because I've read two books in particular this past week that have made me smile through the sadness: 

Somehow I never heard of With Their Eyes, the play created by students of Stuyvesant High School, the Manhattan magnet school just four blocks from Ground Zero. With the help of English teacher Anne Thoms, students at the school who watched the planes hit the towers from their classroom windows, students who faced their own mortality as they ran from through the smoke and ash, used the words of members of their school community to tell the story of 9/11. It's been done again and again in schools around the country and has just come out in book form, so we can all read what a teenager thought on 9/11 and after.

They're all moving, but especially that of Max Willens, a kid made temporarily homeless by the tragedy. His home was in close proximity to the towers; his family evacuated. He tells of his dad noting that Max had a truly hard day on 9/11. And all I could think, as a parent, is how hard that must have been ... to send your kid off to school one day thinking that you don't have to protect him, the school will, only to have the worst tragedy in our nation's history happen in his school's backyard.

But Max came out strong. He was a senior at the time, and he had stepped beyond the role of child hit by tragedy into protector of the memories of those lost. His biggest complaint was the tourists, the people who flocked to Ground Zero:

The pictures, the pictures were probably what did it for me. There were these disposable cameras, the kind that people, you know, whip out for trips to Disneyland or the Grand Canyon, you know, those yellow plastic things, you know, were everyone crowds around and the flashes make those little annoying yellow sounds.

And they say teenagers are selfish? In New York-ese, fugeddaboutit.

And what of today's teenagers? The kids who were really KIDS when the towers fell?

A call to Tuesday's Children, the non-profit built primarily to help the children of the victims and other kids affected by global terrorism, yielded a copy of The Legacy Letters, a book of letters written by family members of the victims. Many of them are children, many teens who were young kids when they lost a parent or grandparent on 9/11. And through them there's a hope, a light, the knowledge that they are focused not on revenge, but on finding the best of life. Take 14-year-old Julia Beatini's letter to her father, the late Paul Beatini, killed in an office at Aon Corporation:

I've lived and learned life's greatest lesson, that nothing is permanent.

They say kids are resilient, but it's better than that. Kids, teenagers, are strong. They think they're invincible. And as long as they believe that, they can change the world. Thank goodness they're the way they are. 

Do you find any stories of hope in this week's coverage? Where have they come from?


Image via tuey/Flickr

Disclosure: I received advanced reader copies of both books mentioned in this post. All opinions expressed are my own.

Excerpt reprinted from The Legacy Letters collected by Tuesday's Children by arrangement with Perigee, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc., Copyright (c) 2011 by Tuesday's Children.

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