OP-ED: It’s time to talk to your children about 9/11

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Written by JILL CUENI-COHEN

Terror attacks occur on a daily basis in some parts of the world, and it doesn’t appear as if they will stop anytime soon.

Unfortunately, many Americans have become numb to the news alerts that follow a terror attack. But as numb as we find ourselves, we must ‘never forget’ the terror attacks that took place on American soil and changed the world forever on September 11, 2001. We must never forget the importance of sharing the information of that day with our youngsters.

There is a film available on Netflix called, A Family Man. In the film, a father and his son tour buildings in Chicago.  During one of their stops, the young boy looks up and sees that one of the cobble stones on the building is engraved with the following words: “World Trade Center. September 11, 2001.”  

The boy asks his father, “Where were we on that day?” The father answers, “You were not born. I was in my office and we all watched with horror as two buildings came crashing down — many people died. Little boys like you never got the chance to say goodbye to their mommy or daddy.”

This leads to a very important question on this Independence Day: I’m sure you know where you were on 9/11, but do your children know where you were on that day?

I write for the DML website, but I am also an author. Like Dennis Michael Lynch, I was personally affected by 9/11.

I was so taken by the horrors of 9/11 that I wrote a book about it, called, “Like It Was Yesterday, A Journalist’s Files Since 9/11.”

I used to live in New York. Plus, my younger brother was working in a Manhattan high-rise that day, and he was lucky to have survived.

The raw memory of 9/11 fades into the distance with the passage of time, but each anniversary, and each Independence Day presents another opportunity for adults to share this most tragic part of our country’s history with people who have no memory of the way life in America used to be.

Having a conversation with children about this national disaster that happened when they were babies or before they were even born isn’t easy. Some people prefer not to talk about 9/11 at all, but like all history lessons, those who forget the past may be doomed to repeat it. And that is why I wrote this book.

Education about 9/11 for high school students who were likely born either that year or shortly after is not at the forefront of their studies. In fact, many teens don’t even know about the miraculous story of Flight 93, which crashed in a Pennsylvania field after its passengers fought the terrorists on-board.

Told through a diary I began on that day, along with chronologically-ordered articles I wrote for Pittsburgh-area newspapers and magazines in the 14 years since then, my book is an accurate reflection of how 9/11 affected our society and changed our lives forever.

In the years after 9/11, I wrote about several families who sent their sons to fight the war on terror. They reacted the way Americans traditionally do when faced with an existential threat.

These days, not so much. Patriotism has become a dirty word, and love of country is now looked at with suspicion. Apathy about terrorism has blunted the lessons learned on 9/11. Now that we know we’re vulnerable, we’ve begun to accept that vulnerability as a part of everyday life.

I have been a journalist for the past thirty years, but 9/11 signaled the moment my career and my profession began to morph in unfathomable ways. Having recently immigrated from Switzerland back to my hometown of Pittsburgh, I was just about to begin a new job writing for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Prior to 9/11, everybody took for granted that traveling by air was easy and safe; our mail was nothing to be afraid of, and we believed most of what we read in the newspaper and saw on television.

My book can be used to start a conversation with the next generation, and it’s also a way to honor those who have died as well as those who are still suffering, such as first responders who helped to clean up New York City and the rest of us who were traumatized.

According to Dennis Michael Lynch, “As a 9/11 survivor and a person who thinks about the victims every day of my life, Jill’s book is a must-read. Our kids must know what it means to never forget. I don’t read many books, Jill’s I couldn’t put down.”

Like It Was Yesterday, A Journalist’s Files Since 9/11 is currently available on Amazon.com and at the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, PA. For more information, go to JillBooks.com. Please follow me on Facebook at Jill Cueni-Cohen and Twitter @JillCdashC.

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