Monday, September 12, 2011

Honoring the Fallen

To my son-

This weekend was the anniversary of one of the darkest days in our nation's history:  September 11, 2001.  Because yesterday marked the tenth anniversary of that day, the entire weekend has been filled with news reports, movies, stories, and the like about September 11th and what it was like that day.

On Friday, you and I had a disagreement.  You were talking with the family excitedly about watching these shows.  You and your sister were looking forward to seeing such a powerful day in our nation's history, as you were a young four-year old when it happened.  I immediately snapped at you and told you I didn't want to discuss it.  I told you several times that I didn't want to see or hear anything about it, and had trouble hiding my tears from you.

"But Mom," you said earnestly, "we're supposed to honor them."

I remember snapping back something along the lines of honor not always having to do with television shows.  It was a poor excuse to get you off my back in the moment.  But now, I realize, you need to understand.  I owe it to you to understand, and not just what you see on television or hear from your friends or the radio.  You deserve to hear what that day was like, and the days after.

It was a beautiful, breezy day and I had dropped you and your sister off at childcare.  I was ready to teach my course, and had started when a few of my students wandered in late, and said a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.  We all thought it was pilot error, and continued with class.  A few minutes later, another student arrived and said there were two that had crashed into the towers, and now they thought it was a hijacking.  We finished class and I went to the preschool as I always did.  The three of us—teachers and university facilitator—decided to close the center for the rest of the day, because nobody was sure what was going on.  All planes in North America had been grounded, but there were still two planes that hadn't been accounted for.  All of the adults at the preschool split the phone numbers to call.  I remember one of the parents, who was a professor on campus, saying, "Now you're not going to let a few little Iraqis scare you, are you?"  Honey, you will remember that most of your childhood our country spent in a war with Iraq.  This day—this terrible day—was used as a way for people to agree to attack a country that had nothing to do with the attack on us.

After we cancelled our classes, I went to pick up you and your sister.  I took you straight home, locked the door behind me, and kept you out of any rooms with the news.  You and your sister were sheltered from anything that might frighten you.  I refused to allow you to be exposed to the events going on around you.  We put on happy faces with you and made protecting you our top priority.

At school, I had one little girl who cried every day for two weeks.  Little boys built tall towers and crashed them with planes over and over again.  The same pictures played on the news, and child psychologists speculated that young children, like your sister and you, would believe the same thing was happening over and over again if you saw the coverage.  I will never forget how the news, for weeks, talked about how to protect yourself from bioagents in the air, such as nerve gas.  People were supposed to duct tape their doors and windows shut, and wear masks.  I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.  When I had been eleven or so and learned of tensions between countries, I often worried about nuclear war.  It would keep me up some nights, terrified that somebody somewhere would blow us all up.  But I never imagined the pain and horror of terrorism.  It used to be that wars were fought out in the open; we knew our enemies and the war started when it was declared on a battlefield.  War is no longer civilized.  Terrorism is not only a physically overpowering fight but a psychologically overpowering one.

You told me the other day I need to honor those who fell on 9/11.  My answer to you is this:  I honor them in every footstep I take.  I honor them when I support our freedoms and when I fight against the fear that terrorism has left in our country.  I honor them when I stay politically active and vote on issues that are important.  I honor them when I guide children through moral and ethical land mines.  And I honored them when I kept you and your sister away from the horror of those days.

You are old enough now to make some of those judgment calls yourself.  It is important for you to know what happened that day.  It's important that you know that Osama Bin Laden, NOT Saddam Hussein, was responsible for 9/11.  It's important for you to know that political parties jumped on the fear that Americans felt to take away our liberties and to start a war that should have never happened.  But it's also important for you to know that in the days, weeks, months afterward Americans bonded together as never before.  Your sister wrote an essay yesterday in which she stated that we learned what a great country we were.  And that, my son, is the most important lesson we learned from 9/11:  that no matter what was taken from us, we could not be destroyed.  We WERE and ARE a great nation, and always will be.

And so I honor our country, and thus, I honor her fallen.

Much love always,

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