Last week we were sitting at dinner chatting about nothing in particular when my almost-9-year-old son suddenly declared:
“I want to change the subject.”
“To what?” I ask.
“9/11. I saw a book.”
“Did you read it?” I ask.
“But you want to know what happened?”
And so, with no preparation or very little forethought, I told him. Not just about the crash, the collapse, and the deaths, but about my own personal experience with it.
How we lived in Manhattan at the time and could smell the towers burning from uptown. That it was sad and scary. How nobody knew whether another attack was about to happen. How Abba sat at the morgue by Ground Zero and guarded the Jewish bodies.
That there were so many heroes. Firefighters that risked their lives to save others. A whole flight of passengers who sacrificed their lives rather than letting their plane used as a missile.
I sigh to myself, trying to wish away all the evil.
“The world is not a perfect place,” I tell him.
“I know,” he says.
Nervously, I reassure him: This is not something for him to be worried about. We (please God) are safe. He is safe. There are a lot more good people in the world than there are bad. And you and your brothers will be a force for good.
“The terrorists were Muslim,” he observes.
“Yes,” I answer, “but most Muslims are not terrorists. And there are crazy people in every religion.”
I ask if he has any questions. He doesn’t. He moves on with his evening like nothing has happened.
Because of course.
Because he can’t smell the smoke or hear the sirens. Because he doesn’t remember the missing person signs plastered all over Times Square station.
Because for him, this is just history. It may as well be the destruction of the second temple in 70 CE.
Here’s what I don’t tell him:
That so many of those brave firefighters didn’t make it out. That people left harrowing voice messages for their loved ones. That in the months following the attacks there were daily fears of terrorism in the subways, “credible threats” swirling around, and I had to get on the train anyway. That people were getting anthrax in the mail.
That those were the scariest months of my life, and remembering even just a little bit brings it all crashing back.
That the sky was clear and blue that morning and then everything went to hell.
That we are all one disaster away from the unimaginable.
He didn’t ask, and he’s not ready to know.