“Why are those soldiers from Afghanistan at the game? Wait a minute, what did they say? What people died? Mom, what are they talking about?” Kate pelted me with question after question.
We were watching our college team play football on tv when, at the end of the first quarter of the game, to honor those who had died on 9/11, the cameras zoomed in on a color guard dressed in camouflage standing at attention. The marching band, a group we are accustomed to hearing play our school’s fight song, was playing one of our nation’s fight songs instead.
As “God Bless America” played in the background, I took a deep breath and prepared to answer my six-year-old questioner.
Where to begin?
I have dusty memories of explaining all that I could of the events of 9/11 to our older children a few years ago, but Kate’s world had never been touched with its dark reality.
I began, “Ten years ago, a few months after Megan was born, people who don’t like our country flew big planes--four of them--into buildings in New York and into a government building in Washington DC. The fourth plane was full of heroes who figured out the danger that the bad people intended to do and overtook the plane they were on and gave up their lives to save many others.”
I stopped my explanation there, but my mind continued its backward journey remembering, as all Americans do, just what I had been doing on that awful morning...
I had just finished changing Meg’s diaper and was getting ready to dress her for the day when a strange feeling caused me to turn on the radio in the nursery and tune it to the local NBC station. I heard the broadcasters on the Today Show attempting to report on what was happening. I finished dressing Meg and rushed to the family room to turn on the TV. What I saw, of course, would change things forever...
It was Kate’s voice again that drew me forward once more into the present. With those big blue eyes trained at me she asked the exact question I had asked my Mother many years ago when our nation was dealing with acts of terror wrought by Libya’s Muammar al-Qaddafi,
“Will they come here?”
My Mom promptly took me to a world map and showed me the distance between our country and the country where that decade’s evil seemed to reside. The large gulf that her fingers spanned comforted me, I remember the physical feeling of relief that my new-found knowledge had given me. It never entered my mind as a young child that any airplane could cover the distance between my Mom’s fingers on that map. I was looking for a reason to feel safe, and that map was reason enough.
“Mom, can they get here?”
Oh baby, I thought, I want to tell you a resounding, absolute, “No.” but I can’t answer “No” and be completely honest. They made it to New York, they made it to Washington D.C., they even made it to a field in the state next door to us.
I want to reassure my child, but there doesn’t seem to be enough distance on any map from that Pennsylvania field to my own home for my fingers to be very reassuring.
I answer her, “No, probably not. Those soldiers holding the flag and many, many more like them are working hard to keep something like that from happening again.”
“OK,” she said, and off she went on to her next activity. The sight of the soldiers on TV seemed to have done the same work that my Mom’s map did many years ago.
I wonder, what will she use to reassure her child in years to come when, all of a sudden that child learns of evil in the world. What, dare I wonder, will that evil look like?
I can only pray that whatever form evil takes in the decades to come, there will be in this nation the same spirit of determination and courage in the hearts and minds of its citizens to match that of those who suffered, mourned, healed, and ultimately overcame the unspeakable tragedy this nation experienced one decade ago.
In his address to the nation on September 14, 2001, President Bush described such a people:
“It is said that adversity introduces us to ourselves. This is true of a nation as well. In this trial, we have been reminded and the world has seen that our fellow Americans are generous and kind, resourceful and brave.America is a nation full of good fortune, with so much to be grateful for, but we are not spared from suffering. In every generation, the world has produced enemies of human freedom. They have attacked America because we are freedom's home and defender, and the commitment of our Fathers is now the calling of our time.”
The calling of my time as a mother today involved introducing one of my kids to tragedy that did not even happen in her lifetime but still ten years later casts its long shadow, a shadow that--for a brief moment--flickered on her face.
It will flicker too on the face of her little sister in a few years when her father or I tell her the story of the morning of 9/11 and its significance to her homeland and her future.
However, here in 2011, ten years removed, we can add to the 9/11 story the chapter that follows. The one that includes rebuilding, rebirth, renewal...recovery. The one that reinforces messages like “Don’t quit because it’s difficult,” and “I know you hurt, but get back up,” and “glance back, don’t forget, but move forward.”
Let us never, ever forget what happened to our nation and her people ten years ago--words haven’t been written to describe the horror of it all. Let us also never forget the lessons this nation and we her people learned as a result of 9/11 --mere words can’t be written to capture the enormity of those either. And THAT is something I still need to tell Kate about, the next time I see shadows cross over her little face.