Gathering Resources Before 9/11

I'm hoping to give you a head start on talking with your children about 9/11. This year, when threats seem so very real again, I've noticed that my children (the older ones, who have heard recent news) are more anxious than in years past. The events of 9/11 no longer seem like early childhood memories or the reminiscences of older siblings. There is a real and present danger. And so, we talk and we learn and walk together in faith.


A few years ago, my mother attended a book signing by author A. B. Curtis. She bought a book for my children and mailed it to them. I have to admit I was skeptical of a children's book about the tragedy of September 11, 2001. How do you capture the horror in rhyming verse and whimsical pictures? You don't. Instead, Ms. Curtis tells the story of St. Paul's church, an historical church that stands fewer than 100 yards from where the towers stood. The chapel became a refuge and launching point for the rescuers who were on the scene. Every time I read the book tears well in my eyes at the thought of the fireman who hung their shoes on the chapel fence before they went into the towers:

Oh what gallant men did we lose

Who never came back to get their shoes!

The book is a gentle re-telling. Our children are surrounded every day by references to the horror that forever changed our world. They will ask what "9/11" means and they surely deserve to be answered. But, little ones should not see that footage and they should not be bombarded with remembrances more appropriate for grief-stricken, terrorized adults. Childhood is all too brief. Very soon, they will be old enough to learn the details of the day. For now, this book tells them a story of hope amidst the charred ruins. A story we all need to hear.

You can read the entire book and see the pictures here. But get the book. Really. It's worth holding in your lap.

Fireboat is a whimsically illustrated children's book that tells the story of John J. Harvey, a fireboat that witnessed the growth of New York city throughout the 20th century. There are lots of intersting little things to learn about culture and about fireboats. It's a gentle, happy picture book. Then, the book takes an abrupt turn and becomes stark when the author reaches September 11, 2001. She focuses onthe heroes and not on the violence, but this is still a very realistic book and the whimsy evaporates into the bright blue sky, just as it did that Septmember day. It's a good read and it's a story that somehow sticks with us long after the covers of the book are closed. I strongly suggest parents preview it--you might you want to use it with children older than the typical picture book age.  To extend the conversation, you might visit the John J. Harvey website or take a peek at the study guide for the book.


It's not technically a 9/11 book, but I love to read (sing) Wendell Minor's inllustrated version of America the Beautiful. On the page where we sing, "Thine alabaster cities gleam/Undimmed by human tears" Minor has painted a picture of the fallen tower site with the towering lights gleaming upwards to commemorate the loss. It's an image that just fits that particular place in the song written so long before the event. And this book, this song, these words--they do so much to heal hearts and remind us of the blessings of this great country.


As my children have gotten older, I've tried to find some new resources for them  A Nation Challenged (the Young Readers' Edition) is a favorite. America is Under Attack is still a picture book, but its edges are not as soft as the ones above.The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation is a graphic interpretation of the 800 page government commission's report that is appropriate for teenagers who really don't remember and are now old enough to begin to study the history of the event. New to us this year is 9-11: Artists Respond , a collection of stories and art in response to tragedy. Art is therapy. And art is part of our national culture. Creating some art on this day might be therapeutic for all.

It's rare for high school students to interact with primary source documents that are written by people just a decade older than they are. With Their Eyes: September 11th--The View from a High School at Ground Zero is just such a work. Ten students at Stuyvesant High School, four blocks from Ground Zero, conducted interviews with the high school community in the days after the attacks. This work is a compilation of responses and recollections. This one is new to us this year, too. I started reading online while waiting for it to arrive and find it gripping. 

What we want most from our study of history, even recent history, is to learn from the mistakes and to go forth wiser. I think the the first lessons we asked of ourselves were lessons in compassion and in seeking peace in community. We banded together to bind our wounds. Then came the lessons in safety and security. We have a new normal now when it comes to things like airline security and unattended backpacks in shopping malls. It is critical, however, that our children broaden their understanding and begin to become aware of who the perpetrators were and how they think. There is evil in the world and teenagers are not too young to know that. PBS has a whole series of lesson plans for further investigation. And our teens are listening to and talking about the Teaching Company course Utopia and Terror in the 20th Century. 

September 11 tends to be a melancholy day. A couple years ago, we began a new tradition. In the afternoon, we all sat together and spent some time thinking about peace. We were guided by one of the excellent e-courses offered by Mariah Bruehl, author of Playful Learning, easily one of my favorite educational resources.

 This course, Be a Peacemaker, is an opportunity for parents and children to discuss with each other ways to bring peace into ourselves, our homes, and ultimately, the world.

Peaceful children--intentionally creating peace in our homes and helping children to create peace within themselves--is an important purpose in the education of souls. Over the course of conversation, using Mariah's prompts, we shared what comforts us, what brings us peace. I could see Katie plotting ways to make the house smell like the Basilica next time she thinks I need to bring a little calm into my soul. At first, I was going to exclude Stephen and Mary Beth from the lesson time, but I invited them to  join instead. As she set off with her printable, Mary Beth (a teenager nearly ready to leave home) asked, "Will you use this to help us next time we feel stressed?" Good plan. I think these are keepers, for sure.

Wishing you peace in your homes and your hearts!

O God of love, compassion, and healing,
look on us, people of many different faiths
and traditions,
who gather today at this site,
the scene of incredible violence and pain.
We ask you in your goodness
to give eternal light and peace
to all who died here—
the heroic first-responders:
our fire fighters, police officers,
emergency service workers, and
Port Authority personnel,
along with all the innocent men and women
who were victims of this tragedy
simply because their work or service
brought them here on September 11, 2001.

We ask you, in your compassion
to bring healing to those
who, because of their presence here that day,
suffer from injuries and illness.
Heal, too, the pain of still-grieving families
and all who lost loved ones in this tragedy.
Give them strength to continue their lives
with courage and hope.

We are mindful as well
of those who suffered death, injury, and loss
on the same day at the Pentagon and in
Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Our hearts are one with theirs
as our prayer embraces their pain and suffering.

God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world:
peace in the hearts of all men and women
and peace among the nations of the earth.
Turn to your way of love
those whose hearts and minds
are consumed with hatred.
God of understanding,
overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy,
we seek your light and guidance
as we confront such terrible events.
Grant that those whose lives were spared
may live so that the lives lost here
may not have been lost in vain.

Comfort and console us,
strengthen us in hope,
and give us the wisdom and courage
to work tirelessly for a world
where true peace and love reign
among nations and in the hearts of all.

Pope Benedict XI--Prayer at Ground Zero
New York, 20 April 2008 

{Just a note: we have been encouraged to pause and remember and pray every time we notice that the clock reads 9:11. In this way, we remember; we teach our our children to remember; and we truly will not forget.}