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What I Really Know

About 9/11

We cannot forget our blessings, even when the world looks so dark

En español | My 9/11 canvas contains the gray of smoke and ashes, the red of flames and blood, and the black of death and despair. Yet because of where I was on that Tuesday, my canvas also resonates with the yellow of hope.

cupcake with two candles - 911 story

A student's birthday is forever changed by the 9/11 attacks. — Photo by Getty Images

When news of the first attacks came, I was engaged in a "Replace the Blahs with the Hurrahs" creative writing assignment with my sixth-graders in a suburban Detroit middle school. Not only did events quickly change my lesson plan, but they also altered the dynamics within the classroom. As my students watched the tragedy unfolding on the television screen, they began rearranging their chairs in ways that dissolved the boundaries different cliques had established.

Find a 9/11 National Day of Service volunteer opportunity. >>

Soon, the extroverts were listening to the more reserved students; empathy and an awareness of a shared human experience became more important than academic and social status. I noticed especially that my Caucasian students were reaching out to the Chaldeans, Asians and other minorities in a more sensitive and positive way than I'd seen before.

Later in the day, my eighth-graders entered the classroom. Ironically, my plan was to introduce to them the novel To Kill a Mockingbird — Harper Lee's book that teaches it is a sin to hurt or kill the innocent. I followed through with the lesson and then sat back as my students animatedly discussed the relevance of this book to the events of the day. I saw learning take place — a recognition of the role that books play in life and an understanding that what happens in school does have meaning beyond the walls of the classroom.

That day ended when Jacob, one of the nicest, kindest eighth-grade boys I have ever taught, shyly approached my desk. "Today is my birthday," he whispered. I thought about that, about how hard it must be to want to celebrate a special occasion on such a sad day, and then I looked Jacob in the eyes and said, "Happy birthday, Jacob. You bring joy to an otherwise unhappy day; you show that we cannot forget our blessings, even when the world looks so dark."

And that is what I remember of September 11 — students coming together, a book coming to life, and one young man ensuring that beauty will survive, even on a day as dark as that.

Also of interest: The impact of To Kill a Mockingbird. >>

Ronna L. Edelstein is a reader from Pittsburgh.

Your Turn! Tell us what you really know about reading. Email your essay of up to 400 words to whatiknow@aarp.org. Or mail it to "What I Really Know," AARP Bulletin, 601 E St. NW, Washington, DC 20049. Please include your name and a phone number or email address.

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