“The flag is at half-mast today,” I tell my boys, pointing to the flagpole in front of the school this morning. “Do you know what that means?”
“That someone died?” my second grader asks, hoping he’s correct.
I explain that it was far more than one someone–that today is September 11th, the 11th anniversary of thousands of people being murdered by terrorists. I am trying to walk the fine line between scaring the crap out of the kids and letting them know that today is a day whose horror resonates and rings like a bell in a clear blue sky. They are just little children, after all. They weren’t even an idea when this all happened. To them, September 11th feels like history. To me, it feels like yesterday.
The flag is at half-mast. It isn’t enough.
Eleven years ago, I was in New York City, married to another man. I got off a bus in Times Square because the street was impassable, full of people standing in the middle of the road, necks craned upward to watch the unimaginable carnage downtown in real time on huge television screens. I didn’t know that the man who would one day be my husband was far too close to the disaster, watching the second jet crash into the World Trade Center in person, from his office window across the street. I remember strangers, covered with dust, sobbing on the sidewalk. I remember watching TV in the dark that night, unable to sleep, and then waking up on September 12 and the few seconds before I remembered, in a gut-wrenching burst, the unbelievable thing that had happened the day before.
I kiss my children goodbye and walk home. It is a beautiful day, the sky as blue as it was 11 years ago. Now, as a work-from-home mother, 11 years later, I find that I have nowhere to go to remember.
I go to Facebook, where people attempt various degrees of profundity and solemnity and change their profile pictures to buildings that are long gone. I try to formulate my own words. It isn’t enough.
Televisions placed in locations like the car dealership, where I’m waiting to get a tire fixed, or the gym, where so many of my contemporaries are going nowhere on treadmills and ellipticals, play the mourners in downtown New York, reading hundreds of names. As though hearing any one name could ever encapsulate a life–a person’s predilections, habits, loves.
Waiting for my tire to be changed, I watch. I watch children reading their parents’ names from the podium. There is a sad sameness to their grief. They say they miss their parents terribly. They love them and think of them every day.
It takes me a little while to realize that many of them are under 20 years old–meaning they were 9 years old or younger, like my own children are, but their parent was stolen from them by murderers. On a blue sky day like today, they were robbed by faceless men full of hate, not only of the Twin Towers, but of one of their parents, one of their own emotional Twin Towers, one of the two spines of their existence.
My office was in Midtown, not downtown, and therefore I am alive. I will soon have four children. While teaching them what happened today matters and always will, those of us who live have a responsibility. Motivated by incomprehensible, unspeakable evil, terrorists murdered thousands of innocents.
I am at home with my children. And today in particular, I pledge to raise them in a way where, in the face of unspeakable evil and horror, they will stand tall with spines of love and integrity. May their lives and our own make the world a better place than what it has been. And may the memories of the dead be for a blessing.
For more advice on tough topics, check out how to talk to your kids about death, God, and tzedakah.