On September 11, people all over the country will talk about where they were when those planes hit the towers. They talk about seeing the footage, being fearful, what a national tragedy it was. Then the day passes, and though they don't forget, it's probably not something they think about on a daily basis. But some of us face those reminders every day.
Each morning, my son and I pass what used to be known as Ground Zero on the way to his school. He's just 6, so he doesn't yet understand what happened there, how many lives were lost, how many families were changed, that it was once a graveyard of twisted steel. No, he's too young for that. But he does ask questions. And while it will be years before he fully comprehends the magnitude of September 11, 2001, here is what I want him to know about that day.
He has often asked me about that "reeeaaalllly tall skyscraper" now standing there -- though he mostly wonders why it's taking so long to finish. Ever since he can remember, it has been a construction site. He also knows that it's a place always packed with tourists, another mystery to him. "Why do all those people want to see it? They must not have super-tall buildings in the cities they live in," he shrugged.
But lately when he has questions, I have attempted to explain more about why it's so special. It's a tricky conversation. I want him to know it's important, but I don't want to scare him. I don't want him to think our neighborhood is a place people want to attack -- even though it is. I simply said that the buildings that used to be there were blown up by bad guys and people go there to remember and pray.
He needs to know that, yes, there are bad guys out there ... and no Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle or Jedi can protect us from them. Certainly, if you had described such an attack before it actually happened, most of us would have said that sounded like some action movie plot. It was unfathomable that something could bring down those Twin Towers, long a symbol of the city's strength and prosperity -- the signature of the NYC skyline. And to learn it was a coordinated plot targeting the Pentagon as well -- it still sends chills down my spine. After it happened, I thought anything was possible. Every horrific, scary thing I could imagine could actually happen.
I remember standing for what seemed like hours watching workers sift through the rubble, hauling it away, perhaps hoping for a miracle and finding someone, anyone alive. Needless to say, it was a terrifying time. And to be honest, that terror didn't wane in the weeks and months after. We kept waiting for the next attack, wondering if the subways and bridges were safe. Eventually, of course, you have to let that fear subside and move on. And that's another important point I want my son to one day understand. While horrible things happen, they don't have to paralyze us. We have to gather the strength to move forward and go on with our lives. Resilience. I suppose that is the best word for it.
Not only that, there are people working to protect us day and night even though we can't always see them. "Like ninjas?" he asked. He is 6, after all, so I agree. "Yes Lex, like ninjas, but better."
Have you talked to your kids about 9/11?
Image via © Mark Lennihan/AP/Corbis