Remembering 9/11

On September 11, 2001, I was 30. I had been a mom for only 3 1/2 months. It was Tuesday. And prior to that particular day, September 11’s only significance to me was the birthday of a very special little boy. This day was his 2nd birthday.

I was preparing my entire family to attend his birthday party at the neighborhood community center. Todd’s parents were in town and even Todd had taken the day off work. We were going to party like it was 1999. My infant son was dressed and strapped into his carseat. My in-laws were coming a tad later in a separate car. And Ben was waiting 10 minutes away to celebrate being 2. This was his day.

I gathered the gift, my baby, and my loose ends and awkwardly bumbled out to the car. On the way to the party, I tried to listen to the radio. To music. But reporters kept breaking in. Because by then, the first tower had been hit by a plane. But they weren’t saying what had happened. I had absolutely no idea what I was hearing reported. I couldn’t understand. If they were making themselves clear, I was too foggy to get it. I didn’t know what it was, but I did know something big had happened. One reporter said that in 30 years of reporting the news, this was the worst thing he’d ever seen. What had he seen? I immediately called Todd from my cell phone. He was still at home.

“Turn on the TV,” I said. “Something terrible has happened. Tell me what it is.”

He turned on our TV and watched in shock as the 2nd plane hit, the second tower fell, which was followed by the first one. He watched New York burn. He watched people run screaming. He reported it all to me as I looked in my rearview mirror at the infant legs of my son kicking in his converse sneakers.

When I pulled into the parking lot of the rec room where the party was, I was rattled. My friends were all inside, putting gummy worms into cups of ice cream and oreos. When I walked in, no one had heard the news. Within 15 minutes, it was all we were talking about. Inside that room, it was Oreos and 2 year olds. But when I walked out into the lobby for supplies or the restroom, the news as it unfolded was echoing from a local station. Bouncing off the tile walls and floor. Inside was one world. Outside was the other. Which world was the real one?

Were we at war? Who had done it? What did it mean? I didn’t know. I couldn’t grasp it. I didn’t have time to cry. After all, we were celebrating.

I distinctly remember sitting down next to baby Andrew during that party and looking intently at him. He was still strapped in his carrier, still wearing his converse sneakers. But now I had added a cardboard party hat to his ensemble. He was playing with his own fingers. He smiled at me. He could see himself in the large wall of mirrors next to us. I looked at him and ached. How had his world changed today? What kind of world would he grow up in? I remember asking myself that question. I didn’t know the answer that day.

I know the answer now. I know the world he’s growing up in. It’s not the same world I knew when I was his age. He’s only known this world. This new world. A world steeped in a level of brokenness I can’t fathom–can’t really put words to. A world we look at out of focus because we are looking through a veil of tears. A world of Sandy Hooks. San Bernardinos. Orlando night clubs. A world of falling towers and fatherless children.

A world of hatred and insanity.

I don’t know what to say to my children. I don’t know how to equip them to see what they’re seeing and cope with what may come, because I didn’t have to walk this road. I feel a little guilty even practicing my monologue, because as I type these words, I realize that I do so from a position of luxury. My children’s world view has changed. And the world they are growing up in has changed. But their personal world did not change that day. Like it did for so many. For New Yorkers. For children. For spouses siblings and parents and friends.

From my living room, in my state, in this time, I feel like I can do two things:
I can remember and reflect and honor.
And I can teach my children to do the same.

Dear Kids,

You are living in a dark time inside a dark world. You will lock eyes with evil people and encounter some of the coldest hearts imaginable. You will see terrible things. Don’t let the hatred of people cause you to question the love of God. Don’t let the terrible wrongs committed by some blind you to the beautiful rights done by so many others. Don’t confuse this world with the world to come. Don’t let the darkness of the world around you hide your view of Jesus. He’s there. Keep looking. Don’t let what you see–what is and what may be— keep you from shining.
You must shine.
Be a beacon. A helper. A light. A weeper. A lover. A comfort. A joy. A friend.
Be fearless.
Even in the face of fear, be fearless.
Be an overcomer. Because Jesus overcame.
Be.
As long as one light still shines, it will never be truly dark.
God help you–God help us all–to be that one light.

Together.

___________________________

For a good read about a firsthand account of September 11, 2001, check out Out of the Shadow of 9/11: An Inspiring Tale of Escape and Transformation by Christina Ray Stanton. She saw this day unfold from her terrace 6 blocks from the falling towers. She escaped in her pajamas. Everything she endured as a witness and a New Yorker was almost unfathomable to me. Her account is a perspective I had never read. Worth a read!

To the Instagram Generation, From 1982

I can’t say I wasn’t warned about life someday with 4 kids. I’ve had 2 in diapers at one time. I’ve had potty training fiascos that would qualify for Dateline episodes. Maybe even get me my own reality show.  For sure, people would have tuned in to watch Kid #4 take me for a ride. I’ve had 4 different schools. But this year I have something I’ve never had before.

I have two girls in middle school.

I’ve caught myself saying, “Why didn’t anyone warn me about this?” And then I’ve answered myself, because there’s never anyone else around during school hours, “You knew. You had to know. You WERE them once.” And then I shudder and try to keep doing whatever it is that I’m supposed to be doing. Sometimes these flashbacks completely upend me. Sometimes they amuse me. Those were not my best days.

I made Cs at a public middle school. What if I’d gone to an IB school? I hated opening the crinkled cellophane of a school portraits package, because I knew what I was going to find inside. I knew my mother would be sending it out in the Christmas cards. What if I’d had Instagram?

In 1982-1984, I didn’t deal with the things my girls are having to deal with now. But some things are universal. So I’ve been thinking about Middle School Missy and wondering what she would tell my girls about the world if she could. Here’s what I came up with:

Dear 2019 Girls:

  1. Do your best. Turn in your work. Study reasonably. But after that, let it go. A C in 7th grade World History will not change your life or the direction of your life. An A++++ would not either.
  2. Work with what you have. If you have straight hair, do straight hair as well as you can. If you have curly hair, do curly. Don’t do curly for straight or straight for curly. That’s just raging against the machine. God gave you what you have. Accept it and wear it well.
  3. Look at your body for its strength, not its shape. Your body is going to change 100 more times before it settles into anything you recognize for any length of time. You are a constantly changing lump of clay. And your body has a big job to do. Recognize it for the amazing way it does that job. For carrying you to 7 classes a day and surviving last period P.E. in the hottest place on earth. For surviving two brothers and each other on a daily basis. Fight for your health and not for popularity and you’ll be fine.
  4. Don’t worry about the boys. It’s way too early to worry about the boys. I tried and tried and tried to get Kyle Miller to like me in September of 1982. I had a mismanaged afro and teeth that protruded just enough to feel the cold fronts 15 minutes before I did. I thought those were the reasons Kyle didn’t like me. We were buddies, but he really liked Lauren Hightower. So I tried and tried and tried to be just like Lauren Hightower. I thought it I did everything right, he’d see me like he saw her. Fast forward 20 years and I learned that he was married to a guy, living a very different life than the one I was prepared to offer him. Middle school romances are condemned at their outset, by one thing or another. Just keep swimming.
  5. No one looks good with duck lips. It’s the universal face of stupidity. Cute people who never knew awkward. The most awkward person ever, dealing with a mouth full of metal and rubber bands. They both look equally bad with duck lips. You’ll see.
  6. Everyone deals with something. Loneliness. Divorce. Grief. Abuse. Abysmal self-esteem. Something. The girl who embarrassed you at lunch? She’s dealing with something. The girl you think is perfect because her duck lips picture got 155 likes in 15 seconds? She’s dealing with something. There are no charmed lives. There are only people better at hiding the uncharmed parts of theirs.
  7. Sometimes what looks like snob is actually just shy. Get to know people before you decide they aren’t worth knowing.
  8. Every day has good in it. Every day is salvageable. Sure, there are days when you’ll get called Popcorn Head more than you get called by name. And there are days you’ll sit out of the really cool science lab because you forgot to grab the paper your mother signed that allows you to participate. And there will be days when word gets back to you that someone doesn’t like your hair. Or your clothes. Or your face. Or your personality. Even on those days, you can find the good. If you don’t see it right away—if you are too exhausted even to look for it—be patient. Wait it out. Because it’s there and it’s coming for you. So take a deep breath, put your duck lips back in their holster, and get off Instagram.

Girls, you’ve got this. If it all gets too much, go find your mom. I hear she knows a thing or two about dealing with middle school.

Sincerely yours,

Popcorn Head
1982