Sunday, September 11, 2011

To all the innocent ones

My friend in Saltash, a small town about a four hour train ride from Heathrow airport, sent me a quick message on Facebook last month. She mentioned that she'd like to come visit when the Freedom Tower is built. We receive so many bits of information online in such a short period of time, in comparison to BC (before computers), that our filtering system has become very efficient at responding mentally to specific data and filing it as necessary. My gut response to her statement was to feel slightly foolish at not being as interested in 911-related news as Cornish friends half a world away. It's not that I was so physically removed from the site, living five miles north of it. Every week for the past three years, I have taken the number 1 train to Rector street to tutor my young student. Every time I crossed the West side Highway I would see the construction of this tower. My focus on arriving on time for my weekly appointment and crossing the highway invariably took precedence over reflecting on 911. And then one day, waiting for the light to turn green and wondering if the crossing guards took their jobs home with them, I looked up and saw a glittering piece of architecture that seemed to have materialized from nowhere. It caught my full attention, and it dawned on me that this was what everyone was talking about. The foolish feeling returned, accompanied by a sense of awe at the power commanded by a giant structure. This Friday morning, two days before the tenth anniversary of 911, I am sitting in front of my new class of children. The school is in a community center in the Bronx. There are twenty four-year-olds sitting in front of me on the rug, waiting to hear 'The Man Who Walked Between the Towers'. I checked first with my director for approval to read this book. She requested that I not go into any detail about the disappearance of the towers at the end of the book. As a person highly committed to honesty, this posed a slight problem. I had planned on answering any question that came up in a way that children could understand and use in their struggles with conflict resolution. (Sometimes people don't agree on things, and sometimes they forget to use their words when they become angry). My director was firm on her stance, explaining that some parents might become irate over such exposure to 911 events to their children. Having experienced the wrath of an angry mother on two occasions, I quickly accepted the argument and began my reading. The children were focused. Jason, who was sitting in the front, saw Philippe Petit juggling in the park wearing his street performer outfit. 'He looks like Michael Jackson!' When I read the part about Petit contemplating sneaking up to the rooftop against the instructions of the police officers, I said, 'He knew he wasn't supposed to be up there, but he wanted to walk across the wire so badly, he couldn't help himself. So he snuck up there.' My assistant Ms. Shandra walked over to set the tables for breakfast and said under her breath, 'Hmmm. They know a lot about doing things they're not supposed to.' When I got to the page where the towers were missing, I asked the children where they were. 'They broke', Jason said. 'How?' I asked. He shrugged. He tried again. 'They disappeared!' 'Yes' I said, 'But how?' He waved his hand like a magician making something disappear, then clapped his hands with the flourish of a seasoned performer and smiled up at me. I smiled back at him. At that moment, I agreed with my director. Let's hold on to our innocence a little longer.