"We have shared the incommunicable experience of war; we have felt, we still feel, the passion of life to its top. In our youth our hearts were touched with fire."
--Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
This quote is burned into my memory. David McCullough reads it as the opening track on the Ken Burns Civil War soundtrack. (I know, deep nerd stuff here. I have soundtracks to documentaries. Yes. That should be plural.) Although I have heard this a considerable number of times, I never quite understood what Holmes meant until September 11, 20013.
It was my first time teaching middle school since the world had drastically changed in 2001. I was trying to talk to my middle school students about that day, but they didn't share my sorrow and passion as I remembered. They weren't disrespectful, just blank. They told me they didn't remember because most of them hadn't been alive that day or if they were they had been infants. Of course they knew about it in the way that I know about Pearl Harbor, but they didn't know. They didn't feel the loss. The fear. The uncertainty. The mysterious connection with strangers just because we were all experiencing something together. The incommunicable experience of war.
That day was awful. I remember times during the following days in which I experienced crushing sadness. I remember sitting in the break room of Eddie Bauer reading a paper with two horrific stories. The first told of day care workers having to deal with children who were never picked up by their parents that day because their parents were no more. The second told of parking lot owners dealing with cars that no one would be returning to claim. Both of these left me heartbroken, but when I try to communicate with those who were too young to remember, my feelings are . . . incommunicable.
Those of us who remember that day shared some thing horrible, but also uniting. We felt the passion of life and the fire in our hearts. I wish one generation could easily share their experiences with the next, but unfortunately that is just impossible, not for lack of trying, but because that is not how experience works. The sadness of loss, the terror of uncertainty, and the pride we felt for our heroes is simply incommunicable.
Incommunicable . . . If you remember September 11, 2001, and you get the chance to share your story with young people around you, remember that word. Do your best to tell a compelling story, but don't get frustrated when they don't get it. It's not their generation or a character flaw. It's the nature of experience. If you don't remember that day, please respect those who wish to talk about it and commemorate it. You will inevitably experience things that others will not. Remember that try as you might, some experiences are just incommunicable.
"A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one."