I remember when I was little, my Mom told me how she remembers exactly where she was and what was happening when JFK was assassinated, and how most people who were around then could tell you exactly what they were doing when they heard the news. Even as a little kid, that struck me, and I realized that some events were just so big and powerful, they would imprint your life forever and brand the images of a single day into your consciousness.
I remember September 11, 2001 almost minute-by-minute. Like I am watching a movie, I can play that day back in my head in minute detail. Not just the images are there in my mind, but the feelings too; the disbelief, the waiting, and the fear–the awful, all-consuming fear–are right under the surface of my memories, and they dredge up from my subconscious any time I think about that day.
My kids know, to a degree, what this day is about, but only in the simplest terms–they know bad men crashed planes into buildings and killed people. They know the bad men were trying to scare people and hurt people they didn’t know and didn’t understand. They don’t really know why, but the time is coming when B at least, will be old enough to ask and understand the hatred behind the act.
When we have that inevitable discussion, I plan to tell her the truth and answer her questions honestly, but then I plan to tell her the most important part of the story. That no matter what the intentions of those bad men might have been, no matter what kind of terror and fear they were able to cause that day…ultimately, they failed. Because in the face of absolute horror and disaster, people stepped up and helped and did everything they could, and then some, to make that day about hope and unity rather than terror and hatred.
I will tell my children all about that day in September, in every excruciating detail if they care to hear, but then I will tell them about the average people–heroes, every one–who created something good and hopeful in the ashes of the fallen buildings, and who made today a day to remember not terror, but hope.