It seemed that as the ten-year anniversary of 9-11 grew nearer, my writer’s block worsened. I started and restarted this post a dozen times, but everything I put down felt trite and inadequate. Then tonight I realized that I struggled with exactly what to write because I’m not sure what can I say that hasn’t been said already.
Then I decided that it doesn’t matter if it’s been said. 9-11 is a day that changed America. It’s a day that changed me.
On Friday night I wept uncontrollably as I allowed myself the emotional indulgence of watching a 9-11 retrospective. For the first time, I let my children see for themselves the footage from that horrific day. They know the basic history of 9-11. They’ve heard the story of how their very pregnant mommy was working in the Senate that morning. They know about the 18-wheeler FEMA truck that shared the road with us as their dad and I drove to Sibley the night I went into labor. I can’t really tell the story of Jack’s birth on September 15, 2001 without including the details of the 4 days that preceded it.
I knew if I was going to let them watch 9-11 footage, I would have to keep my emotions in check. More than once, I covered my eyes and Colin’s too. Jack squeezed my leg. I cringed at the footage of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center. I had forgotten how fast the plane was flying, how low to the ground it was, and how very much like a weapon a commercial airline could appear. In that moment of the second hit we knew unconditionally that our country was under attack. The other night, seeing the footage was like feeling it for the first time.
Tears streamed silently down my face. Silently, that is, until Tom Brokaw moved to the story of United Flight 93. Emotion check failure.
Jack: “Mommy, why do you watch this show if it makes you cry?”
Because I have to. I’ll never know what would have happened if United Flight 93 hadn’t crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. I’ll never know whether my life and the life of my beautiful ten-year old son would have been in danger if Flight 93 had crashed into the Capitol – or more likely, been shot down over our city. Amid all I don’t know, I do know that the passengers of Flight 93 were heroes. And when I see their widows and children and loved ones recounting those last minutes on the flight, piecing together the story of their act of bravery, I just hope that I deserve their sacrifice.
I expected the moment of silence at 8:46 this morning to be heart-wrenching. But while somber, the silence allowed me to hear – coming from outside – the jubilant (and loud) voices of the 8 little boys who had slept over last night to celebrate my son’s upcoming tenth birthday. 9-11 robbed us of our innocence, but children still play and tell knock-knock jokes. They still skin knees and fall off their bikes. They even play Capture the Flag. And they laugh. The “post-9-11 world” for me was marked first and foremost by my entry into motherhood. I don’t need to be reminded to never forget.