We as a country, know how to come together in times of tragedy, peril, and need. As Americans, it is in our DNA.
On Wednesday, we commemorated a defining moment for our nation’s history. Every generation has a moment its members point to, that they reflect on as the years go by and recall where they were and what they did when they heard the news. For me, I was leaving my office in Pflugerville ISD heading to a bilingual kindergarten class to read Jorge el Curioso. I never made it there. After 18 years as an educator, this was my first as a central office administrator. I learned that day, you must be prepared for the unexpected. Another 18 years down the road, that still holds true.
For all those generational touchstones — D-Day, the Kennedy assassination — there is none quite like 9/11/01, when, for the first time in modern history, our nation was under attack on our own soil. We didn’t know if or when the next onslaught would come and where its target might be. It changed the world forever. (Do you even remember what airports and air travel was like before 9/11?).
It spawned a unifying response unlike anything we’ve seen. For a short time, partisanship was dead. Volunteer rates reached an all-time high. We were all Americans and we wanted to help each other. On Wednesday, I couldn’t help but notice that many people were sharing a post on social media titled: “I miss 9/12.” It shook me when I first saw it, but as I read the rest, I began to understand. It reads:
I miss the American spirit of 9/12!
Don’t misinterpret, I would never ever want another 9/11, but I miss the America of 9/12.
Stores ran out of flags to sell because they were being flown everywhere.
People were Americans before they were rich or poor, Jewish or Christian, Republican or Democrat.
We hugged people without caring if they ate at Chick-Fil-A or wore Nikes.
On 9/12, what mattered more was what united us than what divided us.
If good can come from tragedy, it is that it brings sharply into focus those things that really matter, and that is what 9/11 did for us as a nation. Sandy Dahl, wife of Flight 93 pilot Jason Dahl said just a year after her husband died: “If we learn nothing else from this tragedy, we learn that life is short and there is no time for hate.”
Amid the tributes and remembrances I’ve seen this week, I found particular strength and comfort in a tweet from Laurel Mountain Elementary teacher Zachary Sparks. In it, he showcased photos of his students’ 9/11 Memorial Project, inspired by the novel Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes. The fictional novel is set 15 years after the event, but explores thought-provoking questions of how children born after the attacks can make sense of and draw meaning from the impact of that nation-altering day.
I am so proud of our educators for finding sensitive and compelling ways to talk about difficult, but important, subjects. Besides the historical, sociological and cultural significance, there are more lessons to be learned. 9/11 showcased the worst, most evil tendencies of humankind. But it also sparked the absolute best in all of us. As Mr. Rogers famously said:
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
There were helpers on that day. There were heroes. And in cities and towns far away from New York, Washington D.C., and Shanksville, neighbors hugged neighbors, people lined up to donate blood. We were one nation, indivisible.
May we never forget. May we remain united. And may God bless America.
The spirit of 9/12 lives in all of us. It shouldn’t take a tragedy in order for us to find it. Let’s help each other find it. We are all helpers! Better yet, we are One Family helping to build a better One Future! My challenge for each of us is simple: Wherever you find division, mend fences. We are always better together!
Thanks for reading. I’ll write again soon.
Steve Flores, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools