salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today’s post isn’t really part of our continuing series about Change, even though it does address Change to a degree. As you long-time lectōrēs fidēlissimī may know, I live and work in a military community – one that, on this day nine years ago as I write, had one of the largest open U.S. military installations anywhere. Years ago, when we lived to the north and I taught at a school on the south side of town, my quickest and simplest drive to work involved a trip through the post, on streets that are now closed off and guarded. Even as late as ten years ago, the Officers’ Wives’ Club sponsored a Quiz Bowl tournament that my students loved to participate in … and I can remember driving around the post, hopelessly lost, early one Saturday morning, looking for the new venue, with no attention at all from the MP’s even though my car had no security sticker. The world was at peace, at least as far as my neighbors and I were concerned, and we couldn’t imagine that anything could ever change that. Do you remember the “summer of shark attacks” in 2001?
September 11, 2001, was a Wednesday, and it was the day of the scheduled meeting for Quiz Bowl coaches in the area. We had a church function planned that evening, and an old friend from California was planning to fly in for a visit that weekend.
Then, nine years ago today, everything changed in an instant. I had taught a perfectly ordinary Latin I class when my senior homeroom students came in, many of them from a Current Events class that we no longer offer. They begged me to turn on the TV news in the classroom because there had been an accident (as we all thought) in New York and a plane had hit a building. So we watched the first collision … and then my Latin IV class, almost all seniors, saw the second collision live. The rest of the day was a blur of TV news, frantic announcements, and desperate prayers for family and friends in New York and Washington. Obviously there wasn’t much of a Quiz Bowl Coaches’ meeting that afternoon; the scheduled function at church changed its character; and our friend from California had to wait a few weeks to come and visit us. A nation at peace became a nation at war, and over time, sadly, a nation that had received the sympathy of the world came to be seen in a different, less flattering light.
And now, nine years later, everything has changed … and yet some things have barely changed at all. Even in this military community, there are perfectly ordinary events scheduled today: a city-wide celebration with food and games, bunches of sporting events, set-up for a special church program, laundry, and maybe taking a car in for service, just to name a few possibilities in my own life. Is it that we’ve forgotten, that we’ve moved on, or that it’s just not possible to maintain days of remembrance forever? I wonder how my grandparents (who I realize with a shock were younger than I am, as I write this, when their lives changed forever on a December morning in 1941) felt when Pearl Harbor Day became “just another day” rather than a sacred day of solemn, annual remembrance.
If you subscribe to the Latinteach listserv, you may have seen a post that mentioned two essays by Classicists that were written in the aftermath of that day. Here’s one by Dr. Rick LaFleur and here’s one by his colleague, Dr. Nancy Felson (you’ll have to scroll down to p. 6 of an old-format PDF file, but the scrolling is worthwhile). In both cases, I think, they display the kind of “long” historical view – and the kind of long-term hope – that an education steeped in the Classics can provide. I’d love to know what you think, lectōrēs fidēlissimī!
The Tres Columnae Project is designed for my students, who’ve grown up in a world at war and can’t imagine the innocence and naivete of their counterparts ten years ago. It’s dedicated to Steven, my student who lost his life in Iraq, and to scores of other “Latin Family” members and their parents who’ve served and sacrificed there and in Afghanistan. In a world that sometimes seems dark and hopeless, and that often evokes prejudice and fear, I hope our little Joyful Learning Community can provide a measure of hope and comfort. And as we follow our young characters’ journey into adulthood – and see how Roman Imperial expansion played out in Germania and Judea, among other places, in the stories of Cursus Secundus – I hope we’ll be able to learn both from the successes and from the failures of the Romans. I think we all long for a world that’s really at lasting peace – not the seeming peace that was shattered in an instant nine years ago today, but genuine harmony among people and nations.
Tune in on Monday for that story in which a Tres Columnae Project character must confront vast Change, even upheavals, in his (or her) life. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.