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September 8 and September 11: Joy, Pain, and Hope

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I'll remember Tuesday September 8, 2009 for quite a long time. My Jordi turned 7. How can that be? It seems like only yesterday I took my wife Kathy to the hospital, both of us thankful that he wasn't going to be born on September 11. And now he's 7! -- looking for experiences under every rock, challenging his mom and dad to keep up. He is just a joy to behold.

Last Tuesday, it wasn't just his birthday, it was his first day back at school. He was giddy with excitement when I drove him to school. He was going to see all his classmates he'd missed all summer. I walked him to class and he was bouncing off the walls. He also was given a gift that day. He sat down with his school and listened to the President of the United States, who spoke of the power of education. He spoke of a student's obligation to themselves, to their family, and to their country. He spoke to Jordi and his generation, and challenged them to reach within themselves and aspire to do great things. I believe deeply in those words. I also believe in those that tirelessly and patiently nurture our children so they can indeed aspire to great things. I believe in teachers. I am so very thankful for Jordi's teachers, and my daughter Jada's (an important future post for me). And I remember my own teachers that long ago invited me on a journey of a lifetime. So I did what I could do as well. I'm not sure how (it wasn't planned that way), but an hour after the President spoke, my essay appeared at Huffington Post, titled The Art of Teaching - In Tough Times, a Thank You to Teachers Everywhere. It was my way of saying thanks.

There are threads through moments of time.

Today is September 11, 2009. 8 years ago President Bush was talking to an elementary school class in Florida at the beginning of their school year. I remember seeing over and over again that moment when he was interrupted with news beyond comprehension.

I am an American, and I am a New Yorker. I grew up in Long Island, then the Bronx. I grew up with an iconic skyline shaped by the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings and the World Trade Center. The Empire State and Chrysler Buildings were something out of a distant past. They were not part of me. But I remember watching the WTC Towers grow in amazement in 1970-71. I remember the orange-brown color of the exposed beams as they were set in place, floor by floor, the colors grown pale by the sheer distance between them and me. Even from so far away, they seemed to touch the sky. When they were completed, I loved to go to the observation deck and look out on this beloved city. I'd put my nose against the huge window and look down on the ant-like humanity scurrying around, and the ribbons of yellow formed by countless taxis. Every once and a while, the Tower would sway, and you'd suddenly be a couple feet from where you were a second ago, only the floor followed you to your new location. It was as if the building was alive, breathing, connected to the city.

I remember parking my car a block away from the World Trade Center on Labor Day Weekend 2001, and Kathy and I took the bikes along the East River, and across the Brooklyn Bridge. We stopped at a bakery, got some black and whites and some coffee, and we sat in a park looking at the skyline from the Brooklyn side. When we came back to the car, I put the bikes on the rack, and remember looking straight up to the top of these amazing Towers. I grew up with them. They were overwhelmingly bigger than me, and somehow that was reassuring. They would be there for me forever.

A week and a half later they were gone ... A week and a half later over 2,700 men, women, moms, dads, grandparents, and children were gone. I will never forget, I can never forgive. I only hold out hope that the answer lies in the education of our children, all our children, across this planet. So the mission is clear. We cannot aspire to do great things in the midst of hate and ignorance. We can only fulfill a commitment to our humanity if every generation educates the next and does it well.

This essay is cross-posted at Blog on the Universe.