9/11: Being Heroes and Being Hope

I am struck by the continued heftiness of this horrible thing that happened 12 years ago today.  It does not seem like it should have been 12 years, with each year never really diminishing the blow.  I am so different, and yet I am not.  I am married now — we celebrated our 11th anniversary this summer.  I now have three beautiful children — they are 8, almost 6, and 4.  I have the same worries, and I have new ones, since life has, well, happened.  

I hope my children never have to witness anything even remotely like that day, though my now 8-year-old son had an unfortunate glimpse just months ago of the Boston Marathon bombing on the news.  He, in his then seven-ness, was, needless to say, frightened. I didn’t realize he was standing right behind me, as I watched the news, my mind replaying scenes from a little more than a decade ago when I was fresh from college and working my first job as a reporter for a community newspaper.  I had to report on 9/11, at the community level albeit (but isn’t that where our hearts break the most for these tragic events, in the company of our neighbors, our families and friends?).  

So my child glimpsed a bombing.  Just a moment earlier he was in the kitchen doing his homework.  How did this child, who moves like a snail otherwise when asked to do just about anything, find lightning speed to get into the living room like a stealth ninja?

His birthday is September 9, 2005.  He was due September 16, and I remember being worried that he might arrive on the 11th and yet wanting that just the same.  There is that idea of bringing joy to a day of unimaginable grief … but there’s also the idea of not wanting to be crying on a sweet little boy’s birthday each year about something that will take a long time for him to truly understand.

Yes, I do a little crying each year on this day.

And, yes, I’m a bit relieved and glad he made his entrance on the ninth.

Last year, his teacher addressed 9/11 in a lesson in school.  She covered the topic beautifully, and my only indication that she did cover it with such care and grace is that my son came home asking about it, not terrified, but rather in a state of reverence for the day.  A seven-year-old somehow understanding and respecting the gravity of this one day.  Then, months later, he’s standing behind me seeing something horrific on the news, with no reverence, no faith in our freedom and those who would protect us, only fear, worry that something might happen here in Maryland.  I’ve never turned off the television so fast in my life.  Mommy became the lightning-fast stealth ninja.

I will not turn on the news today, at least not while my children are awake; I will not let them see the inevitable broadcast of my anguished memories.

Today is a day for sadness.  This is a day to grieve for all those lost a dozen years ago; to ache for all those still trying to fill the empty spaces, the still open wounds, in their hearts; and to lament for our children who must live in a world after 9/11, a world full of uncertainties I could not have imagined before 9/11.

But it is also a day for hope, to wait on and to be grateful for those who have been and would be our heroes; to anticipate and to savor what is still beautiful, especially those things (mostly immaterial) that can never be made unbeautiful; to be the hero: the one who finds the extraordinary in the ordinary, the rhythm in the chaos, the buoyant child in the thrashing waves of our restless souls.

I intend to keep my children buoyant, joyful, innocent for as long as possible.  The world needs that.

As a child, I knew I had one great possession: my body. It was little and quick. I lived within it. I looked out of it with my eyes, my irises, and that was also my name, Iris — like the flower, like the rainbow, and like my eyes. I’d wake up in the morning, excited, ready to go out and look at the world. Breakfast would only slow me down. I wanted to leap into the empty lots outside our windows just as soon as I could and see what had happened overnight. I’d say to my mother, ‘I love life!’ As an adult, I met people who talked passionately about their new Rolls-Royce. But that isn’t a real possession. All we actually have is our body and its muscles that allow us to be under our own power, to glide in the water, to roll down a hill, and to jump into someone’s arms.
Allegra Kent, from Once a Dancer …