September 11, 2007

A Child's Eye on September 11th

It's difficult to imagine that it was already six years ago when the world changed on September 11th, 2001. Like today, September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday. A clear, sunny day it was with the kids back to school and summer a mere memory as the sunlight faded a bit earlier every evening. My son was just shy of two years old and my daughter was six back then. With the oldest one in school, I had the day with my boy as he was in preschool three days a week. I was off from work, and had to drag my young son with me to the car dealer to get the Chevy serviced when the news hit the wires about a plane hitting the World Trade Center.

There's no need to recount the events of that day. Everything is neatly cataloged in the minds of those affected directly or even indirectly by this cowardly act of violence. But, I'll never forget sitting in a restaurant with my wife and children Friday, September 14th. My son was watching a flat screen TV which was on a wall opposite from where we were sitting. Images from Ground Zero were constant and regular programming for most stations was canceled with coverage of the rescue and recovery efforts, as well as the socio-political commentary on the subject twenty four hours a day. We were seated in a booth, and suddenly my boy stood and began to rant.

"There's danger, danger..." he said. ”Everywhere...hurt." This went on as he pointed to the television screen, acutely aware that something was tremendously wrong in the world, and he was expressing in his own limited way the fear he felt watching the events unfolding around him.

My wife and I tried to calm him down, and others in the restaurant politely turned away as they understood that this wasn’t a typical temper tantrum thrown by a kid. There was urgency in his voice, and it was obvious what he was trying to tell us. No one rolled their eyes at the parents who couldn’t control their son or remarked at the misbehaving brat at the next table. He too was affected by the images shown over and over again on television of the towers crumbling before our eyes with very brave souls trapped within, dying as we all gasped in collective horror.

On Long Island where I live, the roads were closed on 9/11 and only emergency traffic and those cleared by the police were allowed on major highways into New York City. All the air traffic across the entire country was suspended, and the local airport near our home was silent. Noisy military helicopters and jet fighters patrolled Long Island's airspace and people were flying flags, holding candlelight vigils in public places, and given to erecting signs and hasty memorials to the victims. All of this fell on my toddler's eyes and ears and was difficult to digest. He heard all of this and reacted the only way he knew how: by warning his family that there was danger.

This morning, I woke up to put my daughter on the school bus and let my son sleep a bit longer. After she left for her busy day, one in which she was chosen by the school librarian to read a special poem over the P.A. system to commemorate September 11th, I got ready for work as my little boy wandered into my room still drowsy from sleep. He looked at the television, the news anchors were seated at Ground Zero and talking in somber tones about the various memorial services going on around the city. I watched him as he stood there, perhaps remembering his own reaction as a two year old six years earlier, and maybe he experienced a small amount of fear.

"Do you know what today is?" I asked him. He nodded with his eyes still fixed on the TV screen. "It's the day the World Trade Center fell down." He said. Then he paused and looked at me. "Dad, why don't they build those buildings again?"
"Who would want to work in them?" I said, perhaps a bit too sharply.

He shrugged and sat down on the bed. It was then that I needed to sit with him, hold him tight and make sure that he knew he was safe, even though there is still danger out there. There's a war raging in Iraq, Afghanistan, and images of 9/11 rolling around in our heads, even in the minds of eight year olds. Maybe I told him too much, or maybe not enough. But, young or old, understanding danger, remembering 9/11, and preparing for life in a violent world is something we have to do no matter what. Like the two year old who stood in a restaurant, pointed at the TV, and told his sister and his daddy and mommy about the danger that is everywhere, I had to make sure he knew, and remembered, that this day affects all of us. The victims live in the hearts and minds of their families, and the images and ripple effects of war and more and more American deaths in foreign lands remain. The world has changed forever because of 9/11, and a two year old can see that.

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