Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering and Forgetting

Today I am remembering that ten years ago this morning, I was sitting at the front desk of the preschool where I worked.  It was a beautiful, sunny September morning.  It was my father’s 63rd birthday. Teachers had just lead in preschoolers by the hand from the busses.  Belongings had just been stowed, and hello songs were being sung.  I was six months pregnant with my second child, a girl, and I was wearing a while maternity shirt and jeans.  My two year old son was home with my husband, later to go to my parents’ house when my husband went off to work.  Sometime in the mid morning, the school psychologist walked in and said that a plane had hit one of the twin towers.  At first, I thought, ‘he’s kind of an asshole - is that even right?’ But then one or two other people came in and said that it was.  ‘Weird accident,’ I thought.
News dribbled in and within a short time, we heard about the second plane.  How could there be two accidents like this?  I had a radio, so I turned it on to see if I could hear the news.  It quickly became very clear.  We were under attack.  We are at war, I thought.  I am pregnant, and I have a toddler, and we are at war.  And they hit the city.  My city.  I don’t live in the city, but I had visited often enough in my teens and my twenties… even taken a class there one summer.  When returning home from a vacation in Spain some years before that, I remembered seeing that beloved skyline as we flew into Kennedy airport and I felt like I was at home already.  I’ve been there, I thought, I know people.  In those moments and hours, the dichotomy of the world struck me hard… the preschoolers worried about starting school, learning to use crayons and hang up their backpacks, my own son, talking and walking but with so many questions about so many things, and then this – strangers from the other side of the globe attacking us with our own planes because…? 
People I knew were safe, thank God, but so many others were not.  People who were just as loved as the people I cared about.  I wanted to go home, and hug my child – hide under the covers and wake up and hear that this was all just a dream.  Everything, I thought, everything is going to change.
It has changed.  And yet, it has not.  In those days and weeks after that day, the collective unconscious was a tangible thing – caring, thoughtful, united.  We formed a circle of wagons, protective of each other.  We listened.  We were respectful.  We could see across the divide of semantic differences to the common ground that united us.  I believe that is the part we should never forget.  We should never forget the heroism that day of the people whose stories became known, as well as the ones whose stories are known only to God.  We should never, ever forget them.  I remember before 9/11, a teacher asking the class to define what hero was.  They could not.  Of course, this was before September 11, 2001.  Of course there were heroes before that day – from other times and places, but kids could not remember them, or could not relate.  And so we say, ‘Always Remember.’
For me, I am not concerned with the remembering; I know we’ll remember.  There are certain hurts that need to be remembered for the lessons we’ve learned from them.  What worries me is the forgetting, and mostly, with regard to our individual lives.    Can we let go of the small things that don’t need remembering?  Forgetting, i.e., ‘time heals all wounds.’  Can we unpack and leave behind a small piece of emotional luggage here and there?  Can we forget the pain and remember the joy? Can we forget what divides us, and remember what brings us together?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Back to School

Last week I noticed everyone on Facebook posting how sad they were that the summer was over.  Warm weather state residents didn’t miss a chance to brag that it was still quite warm in their home towns, but I for one am appreciating the cooler nights. The only down side to that is how COLD the water has become at the beaches.  I don’t know about all of you, but I can’t stand swimming in cold water.  Warm water is the only thing I’d really love about living in the south.  Then, wisely, someone posted that it was not really the weather that was bumming us all out about the passing of summer – it was the back to school aspect.  Back to school represents back to seriousness, back to reality.  Even if much of your reality continues through the summer, I think we all harbor a remembrance of summers off as children.  You always had big dreams for the summer – even if they didn’t become reality, the months of dreaming alone made summer worth it.  The best day of summer was always the first day of summer vacation – the best week was that last week in June…  it was almost like bonus time – summer didn’t really start until July 1st – that’s when you started the ticking of you mental summer clock. 
I have to admit, though, when I was a kid, fall was my favorite season.  Don’t misunderstand, I loved summer vacation and I was always sad when it came to an end, but there was something about fall that really appealed to me.  It represented the chance to do things differently – better.  The chance for new and good things… the chance to start again.  Late every August, I would trudge off to the store with my mother and sisters to buy school supplies.  I’d look at the clean, new notebooks, and although I got butterflies in my stomach, and I hated the thought of homework and meeting the other students in my class, I’d also think  “this year, I’m going to keep everything neat..  this year, I’m going to get straight As in every subject…  this year I’ll actually USE my agenda book.”  I’ve spent my whole life attending or working in a school, which continued that feeling on into my adulthood.  I worked in a preschool for bosses with yellow school bus ties that they wore every September.  Some years, I’ve done both, and my mind will forever function on the Summer Ends When School Starts mentality (Just ask my husband – we once had a very serious debate about when “the end of the summer” actually was.  I think I won.)
In my house, as a parent, I’m seeing this back to school thing with different eyes.  I see the war between “happily anticipating new things” and “anxiety about new things that are out of my control.” For example, there are the worries, “I don’t know anyone in my class?”  “What if I don’t like my teacher?”  “What if the work is too hard?”  (…and this year’s new ones…) “What if I can’t open my locker?”  “What if I’m late to class?”  Lots of times the anxiety jumps to the forefront, but  I talk them down, and the excitement – it’s there.  It’s my job to find it, and pull it out.  Make them embrace it.  Who does not need a new beginning?  If you’re seriously well-adjusted, you could make a case for every day being a new beginning, but how many of us are THAT well adjusted?  I’ll take once a year.  And New Year’s Day as a new beginning?  For one, it’s the middle of the winter – winter before the holiday, same old winter after the holiday.  After the holiday is over we go back to exactly the same routine as before.  We don’t even pull different bins of clothes from the closet.  Face it, New Year’s just doesn’t work the way back to school does.  I’ll take my anxiety and my new beginning in Early September, thank you. 
And a nice stack of blank loose leaf paper, too.