Friday, September 11, 2015

Let's Go!

I love teaching fourth graders.  There’s something about turning ten that opens a child’s eyes to new ways of thinking.  Sometimes that means testing the limits and trying the nerves of their parents and teachers.  But more significantly, it means these kids are developing their own opinions and crafting their own personal view of the world.  I try not to overlook the huge responsibility that puts on me as the voice that they listen to for hours each day.

For the past ten years, every September 11th I’ve faced my students and tried to explain why we have a moment of silence at 8:46 am.  It never gets easier, and in some ways it gets harder because these children are so far removed from 2001 that sometimes this is the first they’ve heard of (or at least processed) that horrific day.  We talk about the facts, the feelings, and the fears and I try hard to formulate answers for questions that truly don’t have answers.    

Almost without fail, the conversation eventually turns in one particular direction, and it did so again today as a boy in the back raised his hand.  I could have predicted what would come next just with one glance at his wide eyes, so his question was no surprise when he said, “So the people who planned the attacks died on the planes too?” My heart jumped a little in my chest as it does each year as the questions get deeper.

I felt the pressure of the rest of their wide eyes as they looked first at the boy who asked the question, then at me.  I swallowed and said, “Yes, they died too.  They knew they were going to die, but in their sick minds, it was worth it.”  Even though I’d already used the words radical and evil multiple times in our discussion, I began floundering over them again as I tried to explain something I’ll never even fully understand myself. 

Next came the only question harder to answer than that one: “Were there kids on the planes?” That’s another thing about fourth graders: they ask the hard questions and they know if you’re lying so you have to tell the truth.  So I did.  And then I explained to them that all kinds of people lost their lives that day: old people, young people, moms, dads, kids, firemen, policemen, and everyone in between.  Which brought the conversation full circle and I think they finally understood why we’d had that moment of silence an hour before.

I hate that we live in a world where we must have these conversations with our children.  But more than that, I’d hate to live in a world where we’re afraid to have these conversations with our children.  I don’t like my students feeling afraid or sad, but I do believe they need to feel shocked and angry, NOW, while they’re forming their view of the world.

Today while I was having this talk with my students, I couldn’t help but see the faces of those three college students who ambushed the terrorist on that train in Paris last month.   Just last week, I read in People magazine that as soon as they heard the first gunshot, one said to another, “Dude! Let’s go!” 

On September 11, 2001, those three young men were about nine years old.  I wonder if being at that impressionable age when our country experienced such a tragedy had an impact on the men they are today.  I’d dare to say it did, and I’d like to think they learned lessons from their parents and in classrooms in the days following 9/11 that shaped them into the kind of guys who were faced with a terrorist and took him on without hesitation. 

That’s why we have a moment of silence.  That’s why we look our children in the eye and say, “Yes, kids died too,” even when it’s hard.  That’s why we tell them, every single year, yes, those men were willing to die for their evil cause but that’s why we as Americans have to be just as willing to die to stand up for what’s good: freedom, faith, our families and our friends.  

I pray that none of those little boys in my classroom will ever be faced with a situation like those three young men were faced with in Paris last month. But if God forbid they are, I hope their eyes widen just like they did today and without hesitation, they say, “Let’s go!”

The only way to defeat evil is with good.  And the battle starts a lot sooner than we’d like to think.