teach your children well

Today is a day for remembrance and for mourning.

I say “and” because today, I saw ceremonies dragging children into the national circus, children who weren’t even zygotes on the day. Teenagers who were one and two years old. I look at them and wonder: with the exception of the descendants of the deceased, what does this day mean to them?

Have they been taught to feel something specific, or do they come by their feeling naturally? It is not unlike the way I approach the question of children and religious upbringing, in no small part because patriotism is the nearest thing America has to a national religion.

I learned about tragedy as I grew into the ability to think critically about it. Some came early because it affected me as a daughter of Germany: better I educate myself, in that case, by those who studied the subject, from books, than by those who tried to wedge it into a state-guided framework. Better I ask my parents. Because we were military and my father appreciated the history, yes, I did learn about Pearl Harbor and D-Day before they came up in school as well. It didn’t mean I had any personal notion of what they meant; none of my kin died on either day, and of all the war stories my father told about Grandda Lewis, I don’t think Normandy’s involved. North Africa, yes. (“North Africa?” I expect to hear from kids these days. Yes, beasties, part of World War II was fought there.)

I think I mourn Hiroshima and Nagasaki as much for what they meant for the future as for their own sakes. What was unleashed on two days in August had consequences we still cannot number. I cry for the dead of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory because they are my dead, the garment workers, the immigrants. My great-aunt was a garment worker, too, in Germany, after the war. If she had been born a generation sooner, caught a ship abroad? For the dead of T4; they could so easily have been me.

When I mourn, it is because something important to me has been lost, and I understand it.

When I acknowledge a day of mourning, I am saying “I see your pain. I am sorry for it.” But it is not my mourning to join.

Do I mourn today?

Fourteen years later, all I have to do is shut my eyes and there I am in bio lab, done early, reading a library book (Mercedes Lackey, one of those Last Herald-Mage ones). I am fifteen years, six months, nearly two days old. I am missing my family but it will be okay. The first plane hits and it’s astounding. The second and it’s horrific. The towers fall as we watch, all morning, inundated: what were they thinking, letting us see it? Only Mrs Wallin had the good sense to shut off the lights and the telly both. She gave us a place to be quiet. — What a task she had, thinking back: she had to teach a bunch of sophomores the modern history of a world irrevocably altered. Without bias. While keeping us aware of the news via Current Events reports.

I am fifteen years, six months, fully two days old, and the TV isn’t showing what it ought. Why?

I am fifteen years, six months, a few weeks older, and I wish I had been born in time to receive a smallpox inoculation. Already there is anthrax in the mail.

(I am three or four and the maps are all yellow and orange. I know Wolf Blitzer on sight but not Michael Jackson.)

What I have lost is also not countable yet. I begin the tally at fifteen years, six months, and nearly two days old, and it snowballs on.

I count myself among the mourning not only because I was alive, but it held real meaning and would hold even more with time. What meaning does it hold to children trotted out with sheet music and high-pitched voices, maybe a trumpet or two? Do they make that meaning for themselves, or has it been made for them? And will they be able to make their own meaning when they grow up?

What are the stories we tell them, and why do we tell them the stories that way?

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