The monuments can be found in most North Shore communities, including Lynn, and the memories — never far from the surface in the minds of people who lived through the day — surface on Sept. 11.
There’s the memorial sign on Lynnfield Street, the plaque in front of the Revere-Malden fire station, another plaque in Saugus and a monument at Goldfish Pond. The tributes and salutes to Americans and people from around the world who were killed by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001 dot the nation and occupy sacred ground in New York City, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania.
But monuments, like memories, have a way of fading if the appreciation and respect for them is not renewed and new generations are not educated by people who lived the events that became history.
The 9/11 attacks have not been consigned to history books and news clips. They live in the memories of people who endured changed lives, changed families and a changed nation on that bright blue Tuesday. Many of them, including Saugus, Marblehead, Lynn, Peabody, Swampscott and Lynnfield residents, will pause today and think of loved ones and friends they lost. Others will recall the surreal and stunning images broadcast on television that morning.
But a whole generation of young people will view 9/11 in the roughly the same way they view other events that preceded their birth or that occurred when they were too young to comprehend historical events and their ramifications.
These 20-somethings and teenagers need more than history books or social media summaries to grasp a complete understanding of the attacks. They need the opportunity to hear directly from the people who lost loved ones in the attacks and who tried to save lives and who rushed to Ground Zero in their wake. There are thousands of people who can provide firsthand accounts of how the nation responded to the attacks and how 9/11 changed the country.
Americans too young to remember the attacks are going to be passed the torch of history by the generation that lived through 9/11. They must be thoroughly prepared to carry the truth about 9/11 forward to future generations.
The key to that preparation is spending time listening to the firsthand accounts of 9/11 survivors and people who endured that day. History is never absolute and the push to tear down Confederate monuments is proof that perspectives on history are never anchored in concrete.
It is a giant puzzle and pieces are almost always missing.
The search for those pieces begins when people take time to listen to stories told by people who witnessed world-changing events like 9/11. Every American should shoulder the responsibility of finding and speaking with someone who experienced that day. It is up to the first responders, the witnesses, the survivors and people who lost loved ones to offer their memories and their accounts of that day to ensure that Americans born after the attacks or too young to remember them learn what happened on 9/11.
If there is truth to be found in history it can only be discovered by talking to the people who were there.