Eighteen years ago at this moment, I was standing in my living room, my 2 year old was running around singing, carefree, and I was staring at the t.v. watching a plane fly into one of the towers of the World Trade Center, my phone was still in my hand and I could vaguely hear my husband’s voice calling my name. I remember the words I said to him “Is this real?”. It was real. Moments later I saw scenes from the Pentagon, a gaping hole in one side of it and people running in all directions. Then suddenly the scenes changed again and I watched first one, then the second tower collapse in a cloud of smoke and debris. People running from the billowing cloud chasing them, terror on their ash covered faces. They were in shock. Running for their lives. Then, yet again, breaking news of a plane crashing into a field in Pennsylvania. By this time, I’m sitting on the couch, no longer on the phone, holding my little girl who was begging me to read her a story. I couldn’t quite collect my thoughts. I had a sense of fear creeping up from somewhere inside me. What was happening? These things happened other places. Not in America. People bombed other places. Other places dealt with this kind of violence on a regular basis, not here. As I sat taking in scene after scene, I heard my two-year-old ask me with concern “Why you cryin’ Mamma?” I didn’t even realize that tears had slipped unnoticed down my cheeks. “I’m okay, sweet girl, let’s find you a fun movie to watch.” I took her hand and led her to her chair in her room, popped in the first video I came to and she promptly sat down to watch it.
I felt numb. In a matter of minutes, our world had changed. Violence and hate from other places had spilled over into our world and now fear was roaming free across our country.
This is the crazy part. I had made plans to go shopping with a friend and her little boy. For some reason, we decided to go ahead. Maybe it was our attempt to try to be normal. Maybe we thought it would make things normal. It did not. We drove to the outlet mall, our conversation strained as we talked about shopping, then about the events of the morning, then quiet. We walked around for forty-five minutes looking, but not really seeing what the stores had to offer. People were acting strangely. Awkward. I told my friend I thought we needed to go home, and so we loaded the little ones back up and headed back to the safety of our homes.
I was in line early to pick up my older two girls, so were many anxious parents. I formulated over and over what I would say to them, how I would explain that our country had been attacked by evil men who hated America. I watched as teachers lead students out, dazed looks on their faces as they watched carefully after their students. Children, kept unaware of the events of that morning, laughed and skipped and held their friend’s hands. “They have no idea.” I thought to myself.
As they got in the car, my oldest who was ten asked “What’s going on today, Mom, the teachers have been acting weird all day.” So there it was, the acknowledgement that things had changed and they sensed it. “Let’s talk about it when we get home.” I looked in the rearview mirror at their faces as they exchanged looks that said more than words.
At home I fixed them something to drink and we sat down. I slowly started to tell them about what had happened that morning. I chose my words carefully. I did not want to stir up fear in their hearts. My seven-year-old, in all her innocence asked “Are they gonna blow us up?” I looked at her and said “I don’t think so, I’m sure we are going to be fine. But we need to pray for all those people in New York and Washington DC who were hurt, and the families of those that were killed. I’m sure they are all in shock and afraid.” But were we really going to be fine? My ten-year-old, who was more serious about life, came and sat beside me. No words were necessary. I decided that the t.v. would stay off, it would not help them to see scene after scene of the carnage in the aftermath played over and over.
I teach 11/12 grade girls in Sunday School, and I realized a few weeks ago that to them 9-11 is just a history lesson. Something they read about in school. Just like I did when I was in school when I read about Pearl Harbor or WWII. They don’t know that life was different before that day. This life they live now is normal for them. They live in a world that is a constant intake of news and media in the palm of their hands.
So today, we remember. We remember all the lives that were taken by people who have some twisted reasoning for causing so much death, so much damage, so much fear. We remember a day when bombings or shootings were not news worthy for a moment, until the next act of violence grabbed the media attention. We remember a day we didn’t look at people who were different than us with some trepidation. We remember the heroics of the police, the EMT’s, the firemen, the medical personnel, the average man or woman who ran to help others. We remember the victims on board those planes, who knew in an instant that this was the end for them, yet they still bravely fought back saving lives and losing their own. We remember a president who we didn’t always agree with, yet he stood on that mountain of what was left of the World Trade Center and shed tears and hugged average people who had done above average acts of bravery.
People in other parts of the world say we are indulged Americans who are self-centered and arrogant. Maybe so. But we average Americans love our country and we love helping people. We live in a world now where we are more aware than ever that violence and hate roams within our borders. We are more aware of the dangers. How could we forget because the media tries to keep a spirit of fear stirred up every day. But there is still goodness in this world. We Americans may not agree on a lot of things: politics, immigration, and global warming, all are topics that stir up heated discussions and anger, but one thing ties us together…we are Americans. We come to the rescue of the injured, the weak, the hungry. We send food and medical help to people who are suffering in disasters or war-torn countries. The world may say they hate us, but they come to us first when they need help. I believe, that if the need arose, we Americans, we would stand and defend our people, our country, and our borders, against a twisted religion that condones violent acts. We will stand up against a people who are invading our country under the guise of pursuing the American dream, only to try to force us to change our laws to their laws, or force us to accept their mindset. We won’t do it. We may make efforts to respect your beliefs. We may offer help if you need it. We may even try to call you friend. But we are not ignorant of your hidden agenda. We are not idiots. We see. We listen. We stand against the ugliness that has taken root in your mind and in your hearts. We were not defeated or disabled on September 11, 2001. We were awakened. We were educated. We will remember. We will teach our children to remember. We will remind each other of what is right and good. To all those families and friends who lost people they love on that day. We remember and we pray for you.