On 11 September 2001, I dropped my then two-year-old son off at pre-school, got back in the car, and began to drive home. Turning left onto my street, an NPR reporter (I think it was Scott Simon) tried to figure out what was going on as a plane crashed into the Pentagon.
A terrorist attack on the World Trade Center was not a great shock to me, nor I expect to the reporter. There had been an earlier bomb in the basement garage. Each time my husband went to the WTC as he prepared for his CFA exams, I fretted as to whether he would return.
I hadn’t anticipated a direct hit on the Pentagon. That target implied a strike on one military power by another. I thought about Pearl Harbor; my mini-van seemed to de-materialize; and I couldn’t decide whether to turn around and retrieve my son or continue home. I fought the urge to spread my fear to the next generation. I sat with my husband in horror as the towers fell.
I can’t remember what happened between that moment and the next morning when I faced a Freshman seminar full of shattered young men and women, who had only just left their sheltered homes for school and now stared into an existential abyss.
That subsequent morning offered a new set of challenges for a cosmopolitan pacifist at a ‘red state’ sectarian school. I attempted to respectfully respond to frenzied boys’ urge to enlist and fight a foe we had yet to identify. I stood on the front lines of our national struggle to maintain the rights we purport to impose (an oxymoron to my mind) abroad.
Those college girls and boys are now women and men the age I was when I sat among them as scared by the necessity to teach the moment as by the moment itself. They have never known adulthood, nor my sons childhood, without war.