Thursday, September 8, 2011

One American Ten Years After


The youngest child in a family gets special privileges, especially if the she is gifted. 

A gifted baby not only gets special recognition, but also special protections.  Much is forgiven the gifted child.   

All are delighted when a golden child performs.  Soon her talents afford her special dispensation:  the golden child is exceptional.  Family members take note and look to her for a model to follow, for leadership. As the golden child goes, so goes the world. 

In fact, family members soon expect the fair-haired one to share the rewards of her special skills with those less fortunate.  If things go wrong, siblings look to her to take the lead in making them right again.  With privilege comes responsibility after all. 

Naturally, based on her experience, the exceptional child develops her own expectations.  She expects the special treatment showered on her to continue.  She dons the leadership mantle and steps to the forefront without looking back, knowing that the others will fall in line. 

The extraordinary girl grows to believe she is loved by all, held up by all, respected, admired, emulated by all. 

But all is not well in the exceptional young woman’s world.  While many rejoice in her success and gladly look up to her beacon of enlightenment and goodwill, others become angry, jealous, surly.   

They see she is imperfect.  What’s more, she blocks their sunlight.  She steals their place leaving only cool shadows.  They are tramped upon when she exceeds her bounds, bounds she does not recognize at all. 

And so a sibling plots and plans to show the world and the gifted girl.  The wounded, angry sibling strikes out with the fury of a betrayed lover, brazenly, publicly, on a stunning scale, on September 11, 2001. 

And from that day forward, we citizens of the exceptional United States have trod more lightly.  We have thought twice.  We have heard the gossip and the sneers from behind our backs.  We’ve seen our flawless grace and our bright innocence fade, our altruistic motives challenged --- they were altruistic, weren’t they? 

For our gifted, exceptional country, the legacy of September 11th, at least in part, has been humility and circumspection.  Maybe it’s not all about us after all.  

On September 11th, I was principal at a middle school.  We had 750 students aged 11 to 13. 

As the news from New York streamed in that bright day, I had the TV on in my office to see the Twin Towers battered and aflame.  Smoke billowed and flowed without end across the cloudless sky. 

Already, we had suffered the loss of a sixth grader, hit by a car.  I knew these students and the staff would want calm and security.  So when the requests came into my office to watch the news in classrooms, I said no.  Social Studies teachers did not agree with my decision.  We should let these kids see history in the making. 

Then the Towers fell and fell and fell.  A second volley of requests came in.  The teachers wanted to see, but they were unsure if it was okay to let the kids watch.  Better ask Carolyn.  No, I said no. 

We had a peaceful day at school September 11th.  The kids ran and played almost like always.   

Our son was a junior in high school and played defensive line against a formidable rival that Friday.  My husband and I sat in the stands with the same parents we’d known through elementary school bunch ball (soccer), baseball, and wrestling.  We cheered and chanted like always, on the skin of the bubble at least.  Beneath that fragile membrane though, our hearts constricted and our eyes turned skyward too often. 

A year later I moved on to the high school.  On a crisp fall day all 1700 students and staff, released for lunch, milled about the corridors and the quad, when olive drab Air Force transports began flying low overhead.  Again and again they banked above us, hanging ridiculously close and impossibly static in the air.  

Touch and go practice flights, I surmised, though I’d never seen such a pattern so close to the school.  The quad, normally alive with the laughter and squeals of healthy teenagers, grew still, edgy.  Feeling ill at ease myself, but hoping to allay the kids’ anxiety, I raised my hand to wave at a pilot.  Just then, a sophomore jogged to my side and said, “Look Mrs. Plath!  Osama!” 

So for me it’s ever-present now, part of the legacy of September 11, 2001, those threads of disquiet woven into the fabric of our formerly golden lives. 

But it’s not about me, or is it?