It’s been four long years and this is the last blog that I am required to write. Well, readers, I can’t say that I will not post about any other portion of this last trip, but if I had one place from the New York trip I wanted to save for last, it is definitely the 9/11 Memorial.
We were very fortunate to be able to go to the memorial because it had only been open for less than a month when we got there. This is a place that everyone in America needs to go. I found it to be a very moving experience, and since that fateful morning is forever burned into my brain, this memorial was the one that affected me the most.
I don’t want to go into great detail about what you can expect when you go into the museum, but I would want to warn you that when you go into the main exhibit hall, (in the area that used to be the North Tower), make sure to have some tissue (though there are places that provide it) and be prepared to have a lump in your throat numerous times. Also, there are rooms that have viewer’s discretion-like warnings, and you should probably think carefully if you want to expose yourself to it.
Not since the Holocaust Memorial have I been so moved by an exhibit. There are many places where I was overwhelmed by the things I was seeing. I felt the rush of so many emotions: dread, disgust, anger, sorrow.
As I walked through, I remembered a high school substitute teacher telling us about walking the hallways of Antelope Valley High School when he heard of the death of John F. Kennedy. He told us that our generation would have that historical moment that would define our generation…and he was right. The 9/11 Memorial did a great job of showing that dreadful day with dignity and decorum.
That said, I think there is one thing that needs to be worked on in this memorial that the Holocaust Memorial got right: explaining to the audience proper etiquette while walking through this sacred place. I saw numerous people taking big-smiley pictures, talking loudly, and laughing while people walked through the exhibits. The Holocaust Memorial did a great job of developing a somber, meditative mood before allowing guests to enter into the galleries. There was no real space that took the time to tell the audience what appropriate behavior and attitude would be in a place like this.
This might be part of what I would want to discuss with students, though it may not be directly linked with American History or English, it has to do with acting correctly in social situations. Maybe some simple discussions about how behavior should change in different environments. Sometimes people need to be told because often we are not very good at recognizing inappropriate behavior before it happens.
Think about it. How many times do we get the messages of shutting off phones and don’t put feet on seatbacks in movie theaters? How many times do we get told no flash photography in certain situations? It is okay to tell people how to behave. Sometimes we need it.
Aside from the social lessons that I gleaned from the 9/11 Memorial, the other thing I really would want to teach to students is the importance of what happened that day. We are about to enter the final year with students who were in school when the 9/11 attacks happened. Before long, this attack will be ancient history to students. We need to make sure that students do not look at what happened with the same sorts of eye rolls that we get from other historical events. No, better than that, we need to ensure that as we teach any historical events, they see the importance on a more personal level. They may not always be able to make connections easily, but even when students are reading fiction, I try to have them make certain connections to things they understand. I know this can be difficult, but it is necessary.