What I’ll Tell My Kids

9 Sep

To throw my voice into the pool with millions of others, I cannot believe it has been 10 years. It doesn’t feel that long, but when I think about all the things that have changed in my life since then, not to mention in the world, it seems like a lifetime. And when I try to look forward 10 years and imagine what might happen, I get scared. 10 years ago today we had no idea that everything was about to change. I wonder what September 9, 2021 is going to be like.

**********

I was a freshman in college. I didn’t have class until 11 on Tuesdays, so I was still in bed. My roommate was there and watching TV, but she was somehow watching the one channel that wasn’t covering what was going on in NYC. I think it was the Cartoon Channel. (I love her.) My alarm was set to some radio station and as it went off, I heard something about a bomb going off in the World Trade Center. I remember thinking “Why are they talking about that? Didn’t that happen in like 1993?” I hit snooze and went back to sleep.

Next thing I know our neighbor was crashing through our door asking us if we had heard what happened. We turned on the news. The first image I saw was of the second plane crashing into the South Tower. I don’t think I stopped saying “Ohmigod” for a solid 10 minutes. I tried to call my parents and couldn’t get through. My stomach sank and I remember being on the verge of tears. We had no idea if more attacks were coming, if everyone we loved was safe, and no way to find out. We just sat, stunned, in front of CNN, watching the planes slam into the towers over and over. Watching the towers fall. Watching a hole in the ground in Pennsylvania smolder. Watching the Pentagon burn.

I remember every second of the first minutes after I found out. I remember the terror. I remember the heartbreak. I remember the guilt that I was 1,000 miles away and still safe, and the relief that I didn’t personally know anyone in New York City, Pennsylvania, or the Pentagon that day. I remember the desperate desire to help but not being able to do a goddamn thing.

I eventually got through to my mom. I went to class, stopping with everyone else to watch the TVs in the hallways. My math teacher excused us. I went back to my dorm room and watched CNN. I watched nothing but CNN for weeks.

**********

I think a lot about the projects that I had to do in school, when we were required to ask our parents about where they were when JFK was shot, or when Elvis died, or what it was like to live through Vietnam. 9/11 is what my children will ask me about. And I often wonder what I will say. There are images and sounds from the news footage that I will never ever forget. The bright blue sky contrasting so starkly with the fireball as the second plane struck. The sick feeling as I watched people jumping out of windows and tumbling through the air. The incessant beeping you heard as the dust from the fallen buildings settled. (I found out later that beeping was coming from the suits of the firefighters, which only sounded if the person inside stopped moving.) The screaming. The stunned and soot-covered people staggering out of the dust and debris that had once been two beautiful towers. The desperation and hope in the voices and on the faces of those people posting pictures of their loved ones and asking if anyone had seen them. The defeat on the faces of the doctors and nurses who were waiting in hospitals and triage centers for the injured that never came, because they couldn’t be helped. The radio personalities, reporters, and newscasters who couldn’t keep it together on-air.

But I also remember the humanity we saw after September 11. I remember the bravery of the rescue teams who worked tirelessly in the recovery effort. I remember the survival stories, the stories of bravery onboard those planes, and the feeling that we were all in it together. The way you could smile at a stranger and know that you were both thinking “I understand.” The American flags EVERYWHERE. I remember one particular commercial, I don’t remember what it was for, but it opened with a shot of a row of houses. The voice-over said something like “If you were hoping to change America, you did.” and the shot cut to the same row of houses, but now each was flying an American flag.

And, in spite of how things played out in the end and my opinion of him now, I remember finding comfort in President Bush’s promise that we will rise out of this, that we will find the people responsible, that we are America, and we will be okay.

I think I’ll tell my kids all of that. It’s important they know what the experience was like. But I think I will also tell them this:

A piece of America died that day along with the almost 3,000 people who lost their lives. We realized that America is not infallible. We are not immune to the horror that people in other countries experience everyday. We are not untouchable or invincible. When you’re raised in the US, you are raised with a sense of security that war will never march down your street. 9/11 proved that wrong and for those of us who were old enough to understand that day, tanks rolling down city streets and fighter jets roaring overhead didn’t seem like such an impossibility anymore. I don’t think that feeling has ever stopped for me. Every time I see a low-flying plane, I get nervous. As the war rages on in the Middle East, I don’t believe that it will never again reach our shores.

I hope I’m wrong. Because we are America and for all of our faults and imperfections, this is a great place to live. Maybe the best. I hope that we never know pain and terror like we did 10 years ago. I hope that the solidarity and bravery and strength we all felt that day doesn’t get permanently lost amidst the Kardashians of the world. I hope that it is a reminder to our politicians that, Democrat or Republican, what matters is the integrity and safety of our country – not their career ambitions. I hope that we can find a way to honor the memories of those that died on 9/11 and everyone who has died in the war since that does not include more war or fighting over politics.

**********

 I spend every September 11 thanking God for my life and the people in it, and for the fact that I live in the United States.

Thank you to our troops. Thank you to our firefighters and police officers and emergency personnel. Thank you for those who have sacrificed and those whose lives have been lost.

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5 Responses to “What I’ll Tell My Kids”

  1. Life of a Doctor's Wife September 9, 2011 at 10:32 am #

    Well, now I am crying.

  2. Heather September 13, 2011 at 9:28 am #

    Beautiful.

  3. Wanderlust September 14, 2011 at 12:50 pm #

    What a beautiful post. Brought back tears and memories. I thought about writing about 9/11 but found that I didn’t want to get that close to the grief and reawaken all that I felt at that time. Cop out? Perhaps. I explained to my kids (again…they are young) what the day meant and why people had their flags out. But to re-enter that moment through writing about it. I found I just couldn’t go there for some reason. Maybe because I’m still feeling and grieving the personal events of the past year.

  4. Megan (Best of Fates) September 19, 2011 at 12:28 pm #

    This is one of the best 9/11 posts I’ve ever read – how beautiful.

    • Kristina September 19, 2011 at 12:38 pm #

      Megan –

      Thank you so much. I am totally flattered. I’m a huge fan of yours (although you wouldn’t know because I’m the worst commenter EVER) so I’m a little blogger-struck right now. 🙂 Thank you!!

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