Today, I had to explain to 21 ten and eleven-year-olds what September 11th was.
A day that is forever imprinted in my memory happened before they were even born.
But after listening to this Presidential Proclamation over morning announcements at the beginning of the school day, I was surprised with, "Miss Bogner, what's September 11th?" Amazingly, while a few students knew (or thought they knew) something about the events of 9/11/2001, many had only heard the date thrown around as the name of an event out of context to their lives and understanding.
How do you talk to kids about such a tragedy? How do you honor the sacrifices made without delving into darkness with ones too young to deserve a loss of innocence? How do you tell the history without frightening them about the future?
It didn't help that memories and emotions I didn't expect came rolling over me as I listened to the proclamation and then tried to explain what had happened and why we need to remember.
The best that I could do? I compared it to why we learn about the atrocities of WWII and the Holocaust. "So you know that life is valuable, so that you know what happened in the past when people chose death instead, and so you can be the one to make sure it never happens again."
High walking orders for 5th graders.
It is interesting that last night I happened to read this article that has been floating around facebook. Written as an open letter to teachers from the mother of a Sandy Hook victim, I cried through the whole thing. When Sandy Hook happened, I avoided the media about it- switched off the TV, didn't scour the internet like most for survivor stories, changed the topic when friends wanted to talk about it. I felt cold and unfeeling, but honestly, I couldn't handle it. It is not that I was struck by fear that it could happen in my school, but more that you can't help living through a bit of that experience if you are a teacher. A few days after the Sandy Hook massacre, I was on my prep period while my kids were at PE. Sitting alone in my classroom, I glanced up at all of the empty desks, and started to cry. I knew that my kids were safe, that they were just downstairs in the gym. But I could help but think about a classroom of empty desks, and what it would be like if the students never came back to sit in them. If even one was missing. Something in the article that resounded with me was a statement by a teacher who went back after the shooting. She said she did it because "They are my kids." It is so true. They may annoy me, challenge me, work me to death, disobey me, try my patience, and make my day difficult, but they are still my kids. I would die for them, and that makes it even harder to talk about Sandy Hook, September 11th, and other times when life has been discarded like it means nothing.
And where was God in all of this, you may be thinking? Now that I am at a Catholic School I don't have to talk around or avoid the real things that kids need to hear on a day like today.
They need to know that they can pray. They can pray for the victims. For the survivors. For the sad souls whose actions hurt others.
They need to know that they can go to God in their fear. They can be honest with Him about their feelings. That they can put their trust in Him and know that He will carry them through any situation.
They need to know that they have adults who care about them and that they can talk to them about tragedy. That there are good people who will always put them first, like their moms and dads and teachers, as well as people they don't know whose job it is to protect them. Knowing that my brothers-in-law Steven and Luke, a firefighter and soldier respectively, have chosen to put their lives on the line for perfect strangers makes me love them more and reminds me of the selflessness of so many who strive to counteract evil working in the hearts of men.
And they need to know that God is good. All the time. God is good, no matter what the world around us is shouting, no matter what they see on the news, no matter the situation surrounding them.
So this song has been sticking with me lately.
"I steady my heart on the ground of your goodness. When I'm bowed down with sorrow, I will lift up your name, and the foxes in the vineyard will not steal my joy, because you are good to me."
"Surely your goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." ~Psalm 23:6