Thursday, September 2, 2010
In Honor of the Anniversary
I don’t see a day in my lifetime that I won’t cringe a bit inside when I hear the words “September eleventh”. I’d imagine I’m not the only one. It’s the most memorable day of history to most Americans who are under forty years of age.
We don’t remember Pearl Harbor. The fall of the Berlin Wall was significant, but very far away. Even the bombing in Oklahoma City was startling, but our fear turned to sadness when we found out it was carried out by ‘one of us’.
That day, nine years ago, when we watched the horror of airplanes plunging into our sacred buildings, as it all unfolded on live television, will be seared into our memories for decades to come. It changed our country. It changed how safe we felt in our own land. We’d grown very complacent in our perceived cocoon of safety. We had naively thought we were immune from real attacks from people who hated us halfway around the world. The events of that day changed our politics and it changed our focus.
But more personally, it changed me. It was a catalyst that made me a different wife, and a different mother. Living in Missouri at the time, my greatest fear on September tenth had been a random tornado sucking up my house and my children. Suddenly my worry list became a scroll that never stopped unraveling. I could watch the weather forecast. But I couldn’t predict when a terrorist might bomb my peaceful town.
The possibilities and threats were foreign to me. I didn’t like the feeling of having no control over this danger. I could lecture my children all day about stranger danger and holding my hand at the mall. I could be obsessed when it was time to buckle every car seat correctly. I could buy organic produce and religiously drag them into the doctor’s office every September for a flu shot.
None of it would protect them if a terrorist wanted to do them harm.
I found myself relating more closely to the mothers I saw on the news, the ones who clutched their bloody children in the aftermath of a terrorist bomb that had ripped through their child’s school. In reality my life was a still a thousand times safer than theirs, but I understood the terror of randomness on a much deeper level than ever before.
I had three of my four children home that day. Sam was about to celebrate his first birthday and sat on my lap as we watched the second plane fly into the tower. Meredith and Isaac were home sick and had gathered on the floor next to me as soon as they saw how I was suddenly mesmerized by the news on TV. They quietly asked me to explain what was going on and I could barely find my breath, much less the words I need to break this down for children’s ears. My first thought was their brother, then their daddy.
I called the school and found that Michael was safely tucked into his classroom, unaware that our world had just changed. The teachers decided as a group to let parents break the news to their own children after school. My thoughts then moved to Jeff.
He worked in a building that sat right next to the Missouri capital building. As events unfolded no one could say who might be struck next and my husband’s proximity to one of the most important buildings in our state did not ease my worry. I called him. “How are you?” I asked.
“I’m fine,” he said somberly. “We’re watching on a small TV in the office. A lot of people walked away. They can’t watch.” I could picture all of his co-workers gathered around a single TV, all work projects frozen in time until someone could make some sense of this unfamiliar horror.
Suddenly it felt very real. If an office full of people had come to a complete stop, this thing must really be happening. It must be real. A tear slid down my cheek as I begged him to come home. Just so he could be away from that building that I feared might be a target.
As I turned back to the TV I couldn’t believe my eyes. What had been bad suddenly turned tragic. The first of those two majestic buildings folded in on itself and in what seemed like slow motion, collapsed to the ground. I held my breath, not knowing what to think or what to feel. The announcers on TV choked out commentary.
“What happened, mama?” I heard their little voices but had no idea what to say. My children had never seen me staring at the television, mouth hanging open, tears on my cheeks.
I had to say something.
I wanted to reassure them but I wanted to inform them. I knew it was important for them to realize this was a big deal. For so many people in our country, this was overwhelming. We had just lost a chunk of our population in one fell swoop.
“I’m not a hundred percent sure why, sweetie,” I began, “but two airplanes crashed into two very important buildings in New York City, and those buildings just fell down.”
They were quiet for a minute.
Then one single question.
“But what about the people, mama. Were there people in those buildings?”
I had to look away from the television as I answered them. The reality was too much to process.
“Yes, sweetie, there were people in those planes and in those buildings. Lots of people died just now.”
It was enough. We turned the sound off of the TV. I desperately needed to keep the news on, in case there were more reports, but the narration was too much to handle.
We sat on the couch, the four of us. Baby Sam snuggled in my lap. Meredith and Isaac leaned toward me on each side. We quietly watched the scene unfolding and wondered, in our own ways, what this meant to us, as we waited for daddy to come home.