You've probably heard the news story about the group of middle school students who have drawn worldwide attention for throwing trash into one of the reflecting pools when they visited the 9/11 Memorial on a field trip.
Apparently, the facts as reported in the media are true, as the students' principal issued a written apology about the incident.
It's certainly a troubling story, and we can only hope it is more a matter of childish behavior by one or a few, than any kind of group-wide disrespect for the meaning of such an important place.
This incident does, however, bring to mind a startling reality about memorials and the passing of time.
These middle school students, presumably ranging in age from 11 - 14 or thereabouts, were either newborns or still in diapers when 9/11 occurred. While these students' teachers remember 9/11 vividly, and probably still feel painful emotions associated with that day, not one of these kids has that feeling. While many visiting the memorial on the very same day are still grieving for loved ones who died in the attacks, these students would not be able to remember anyone lost that day, not even a parent.
In fact, these middle school students will soon be followed by kids currently in elementary school, who were not even conceived when 9/11 occurred.
How can we have arrived here so fast?
Our generation's "Pearl Harbor" incident, the day etched in the memory of everyone who watched these events unfold, is so soon shared with a new generation that knows it only as history.
It reminds me of a sermon I once heard, in which the preacher shared several elder church members' recollections of where they were when they heard of the Pearl Harbor attack, and how it changed their lives so quickly. There I sat, listening, learning, appreciating, but not feeling the same thing as those who remembered that day.
And here are my own two children today, who did not even arrive here until three and six years after 9/11.
How do we appreciate memorials to people and events we didn't know or see firsthand?
How do we ensure our children do the same?
I believe memorials continue to be respected by people who have been told the story so often they feel as though they lived it, and who, through the story, have come to share the commitment of those being remembered.
I can't help but wonder whether these middle school students who littered the memorial have ever been told the story in any context more personal than a classroom at school. Surely they have, we assume, but...
*When was the last time you heard someone's story of 9/11?
*When was the last time you heard the story of someone's life?
*When was the last time your children heard your stories of the events that prompted the big decisions in your life? How your family came to live where you live? Why you chose the line of work you chose? How you met your spouse?
*Could your kids finish your stories for you, or tell them to others with a dead-on impression?
*When was the last time your kids heard you recount how you came to know Christ?
*Have your children heard from you personally about what the Lord's Supper means to you? Why you worship? Why you pray? Why you read the Word of God?
Don't these stories go to the heart of Deuteronomy 6?
As parents and mentors, we have the choice whether to tell our stories or let them die with us. And if we don't tell our children our stories, a thousand other voices out there, from the earliest years of childhood, are not the least bit shy about telling our children theirs.
What will it be for your kids?
Will your stories be an enduring source of strength long after your death, a guide leading them to the Gospel? Or will your history become nothing more than a curious spot to pass by and litter with the leftovers of their time and attention?
Those you influence want to hear your story.
Tell it, and keep on telling.