By Shelly Yedlin
I was in Kindergarten in a small town outside of New York City during the “Cuban Missile Crisis.” Like the rest of the schools in the nation at that time, we had daily air raid drills. At the blaring sound of each alarm, the entire student body had to trek down to the cafeteria to “duck and cover,” under the lunch tables. My passionately progressive parents were bemused and outraged about the message and futility of the air raid drills in the cafeteria for several reasons, not the least of which was the fact that the place was the only ALL GLASS room in the building. Since the house I grew up in was also mostly glass, it took me a long time to let go of the worry that the world would come to a crashing end via flying shards of broken window pane. Gratefully, however, and unlike my teachers, my peers and their parents, I never developed or held on to the notion of Russia or Cuba as an enemy, nor, any semblance of fear of Fidel.
Fast forward to September 11, 2001. I am in another small town outside of New York City, but this time it is in New Jersey. My teen-age sons are sitting in their respective middle and high school classes. News of the country under attack is given to them at school. Their confusion and fear are palpable when they return home that day. They expect me to reassure and comfort them, I know, but it is hard. Looking into my sons eyes that day brought back waves of my five year-old self, wondering what the next few minutes would bring. Planes in the sky are suddenly terrifying!
Like my parents before me, I was unable to share with my sons the kinds of reactions that were so prevalent in those around us. Five families in our small town lost a father, a son or loved one that day, and grief turned quickly to anger and revenge. There was also a strong feeling of incredulity–how DARE a foreign country attack the United States? This too, was a familiar refrain during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Somehow I managed to help my sons relax that day, but I was also truthful with them. I shared with them some of the troubling questions I had that this awful event had stirred up: when will we as a nation begin to examine our behavior and the effect it has on the rest of the world? When will we learn to soften our sense of entitlement and end our self-serving manipulation? And finally, will the people in this country ever realize that acting in the interests of others is almost always the best way to fulfill our own needs? I’m pretty sure that is precisely what I was learning those days in Kindergarten before the air raid alarms went off.