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.
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.
Even in the face of fear, be fearless.
Be an overcomer. Because Jesus overcame.
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.
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!