Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Piece of Steel

Recently a piece of steel from the World Trade Center made its way to Kansas City. I understand it will be part of a permanent display honoring firefighters.

My wife and I went to see this artifact while it was displayed at the Sprint campus, and we took our four year old. While we were there a reporter came up and ask me a few questions. In particular she wanted to know what I hoped my son would take from the experience. I mumbled something about bringing history alive, making past events more real, and the interview ended. Although that is similar to what I wanted to say I did not do a very good job of expressing my point. With some time to think about my answer, I would have said this:

I was born in 1970. In 1964 Congress passed the Civil Rights Act and outlawed discrimination in public accomodations. Even though only six years separate those two events the idea of legal discrimination, of separate water fountains and exclusive lunch counters, seems like a different world to me. I never saw the other world and I cannot fathom how it could have ever come to be - it makes no sense to me that some people were denied basic freedoms and that it was legal. Now I am not saying I discrimination has vanished in my lifetime or that all of America's racial issues are solved. I am simply saying that landmark event, only six years before my birth, is a relic of ancient history to me and six years may as well be six hundred. Refusing to allow black Americans to sit in the front of the bus is as distant to me as Columbus's voyage.

My son was born in 2007, six years after 9-11. Although the events of 9-11 are the defining moments for my generation, my son knows nothing of that world or of the one that existed before that Tuesday morning. The same six year gap exists for him. I fear that 9-11 will seem as distant to him as "No Blacks Allowed" seems to me. It will be something to be studied but not truly understood. And that thought troubles me. So I wanted to make history seem more alive for him, I wanted the past to move somewhat into the present. Because, although I don't want him to know the horror of that day I also don't want him to feel disconnected from what happened.