At 5:45 am (west coast time) I was jolted out of my sleep, startled by an image in that dream of a plane crashing into a building. It was the first official “homeschooling” day for us, and I was eager and excited to get everything pulled together for the beginning of our grand adventure as a family. I turned on the radio and started getting the day going, only to hear what had happened in New York City. It was an uncanny feeling…

The first plane was originally assumed to have been an accident; now we know differently. We weren’t even sure for several hours who was responsible.

At first, no one knew if more attacks were planned in the following days – I wasn’t willing to wait to see if there would be all-out war, or continuous if sporadic, attacks. Our first lesson for homeschooling took advantage of a “teachable moment” – what does a family of four need in backup and staple supplies to survive a month if stores aren’t available?

This is where living in a neighborhood well outside a town was a little comforting: we have a well, a septic system, and a propane-powered generator (for fall-winter storms when the power goes out). In an all-out emergency we would have sufficient ability for at least a month to obtain safe water, heat the home, cook (propane stove – which eventually will be replaced by induction to stop using so much fossil fuel…), and we would have light/internet/entertainment and, in these more recent days, the ability to power up one of our vehicles if we had to get into town and back.

Still, it’s always a good idea in earthquake country to have additional food and a supply of water on hand in case the land shifts too much. So we already had about a week’s worth of food in the pantry, but not enough for this planning-preparation obsessed person! Off we went to the food co-op to obtain foods that are shelf-stable and varied, along with some fresher foods that could be used first. For several months I was very careful to keep the pantry and fridge fully stocked at least once a week.

The children helped make lists, went shopping, learned how to navigate labels, what to do with various foods, etc.

We talked about what to do in emergencies, having contacts out of state who can check up on you, and basic provisioning. We talked about war and natural disasters, people who are helpers, professions that are always called up in times like that, and what it meant to us personally.

For four days, no planes were allowed in U.S. airspace. EXCEPT for the fighers that flew overhead as they patrolled the Pacific (and other) coast. The skies were NEVER so clear and blue in my life. Contrails have a habit of spreading, then combining, and creating a layer of haze that filters both light and heat – keeping the earth a little warmer, and the sky a little dimmer. Since that day I have continued to watch the weather and have noticed how our climate may be affected by the effects of simply adding additional ice crystals and water droplets seem to alter patterns in the environment.

Days/weeks/months/years passed. Each time the subject is brought up, I remember a college friend who was on the first plane. He was a good man – we hadn’t stayed in touch, but I always thought of him fondly. He didn’t deserve to die, none of the people on the planes or on the ground did. The loss of just one person who was loved, and who loved others. The loss of just one person who took pride in a job well done, who strove for constant improvemnet. The loss of just one person who hadn’t managed to live a full life is a tragedy. There were so many more than just one.

And there were thousands who were affected, having witnessed the destruction, seen the victims (living or dead), lost a loved one, lost a job, or experienced long-term health repercussions (or death) due to exposure to dust and chemicals. There are millions more, like me, who “knew someone” more directly affected and whose faith in “humanity” was both damaged and reinforced by the events.

Somehow, as a nation and as a world, we adapted to the changes in our realities and shared vision. It’s what humans do… we fought a couple of unwinnable wars, gradually losing our standing in the world. Our nation became more and more fractured – in part because right-wing conspiracies took hold and gained at least some traction in more-moderate thinkers. Suspicions of strangers and “outsiders” grew and an alarming anti-immigrant story became part of every political discourse. I argue that the “conservative” viewpoints are increasingly dangerous and increasingly opposed to the basic principles that guided the United States over the previous 200 years.

Twenty years later, our children are fully grown and out on their own.

I transitioned from homeschooling to full-time teaching about ten years after, and here, on the 20th anniversary have been teaching for about ten years (two of those years subbing nearly full-time).

So much has happened in the last twenty years.

In twenty more years …

Will humanity even exist in twenty more years? Climate change is no longer “coming” as it was in 2001, it is here. Our ability to adapt will be challenged. Will we rise to that challenge?

Individually, I think many people will, and the species of “homosapiens” will likely continue for at least a few hundred more years. However, “humanity” as a concept requires a sufficient mass of humans to allow for cultures to flourish. I am skeptical that we have the collective will and sense of “greater good” that will allow those of us with more to cut back and support those who have less – in any meaningful way.

Tying this into today’s current global crisis, in the United States, many people who have had the privilege of being born and living in a nation of plenty – where childhood and environmental diseases are generally rare or unknown – have been refusing to follow the science on wearing masks and getting vaccinated. Meanwhile, people who are desperately poor (by our standards) – who live daily with the knowledge that a simple cut or drink of water could be deadly – live in nations that cannot afford enough masks or vaccinations for everyone, even if there were efficient ways to deliver them. We have two alternatives in the United States: allow those who have refused vaccination and/or masking to live with the consequences (or die with the consequences) and provide our extra supplies of vaccines and other medical supplies to those nations in need; or we can continue to horde these life-saving measures and allow unused vaccines to expire while waiting for people to want them…

Twenty years since 2001, the eleventh of September continues to haunt our collective memory. But that memory is shattering, leading to diametrically opposed perspectives on who is “worthy” and who is “deplorable.” It is casting people of different faiths into conflict. It is casting people of different heritage into confrontations. It is casting people of different political leanings into adversarial positions that are not only unnecessary, but destructive of the very principles of our democratic republic.

Twenty more years, in 2041, will the United States still be united? Will there be an ongoing economic crisis as people who contracted SARS-CoV-2 continue to suffer from the repercussions of the disease, leaving those who didn’t contract ir or who recovered with no long-term effects struggling to provide enough hands to meet the needs for manufacturing, farming, teaching, transporting, and caring? Will People of Color, Black people, Indigenous people, Asian people, and people of European heritage be able to work together and share this world, or will there be such hurt and hate that cultures become islands and only people who come from our background are allowed in?

In twenty more years, will the children in my class today look back on these times with a sense of grief mixed with awe at the contrast between the worst of humanity (killing innocents to prove a political point) and the best of humanity (putting oneself in danger to meet the needs of others)? Or will they have only grief, fear, and hopelessness, and a sense of longing for the golden age that once was “America?”

Andrew, I would have loved to know your insights – I am sure this world would be a better place if you were still in it, and our future would be so much brighter.

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