On this 15th Anniversary of the September 11th attacks, I thought I'd share this conversation I had with my son:
"Did you watch the movie at school about 9/11?"
"Have I ever told you about what I remember about that day? I had watched the first part of the Today Show and from the stories they were covering that morning I remember thinking, 'must be a slow news day' so I started switching channels. Your dad called and said, 'Did you hear? A plane crashed into the World Trade Center.' I assumed it was a small private plane that had lost control but I quickly turned back to the Today Show and there was the live coverage. Of course no one knew exactly what had happened. Terrorism was under suspicion but that didn’t become clear until the second plane hit. Then when the third plane hit the Pentagon it was really scary and almost surreal. It was hard to grasp that our country was actually being attacked, and we didn’t know where it would end. What else was planned? Your dad came home from work. I called Grandma and Grandpa and other family to see where they were and make sure they were okay. Air traffic control ordered all planes to land. But there was one plane that kept flying.”
I smiled. “You remember me telling you about that? How the passengers fought back?"
“Your dad and I stayed glued to the television set. It was horrible. I can remember seeing things falling from the towers and realizing those were people who were jumping to their deaths.”
“Why would they do that?”
“There was no other way out. Fire was all around them. And I can remember seeing the towers leaning, thinking those are going to fall. They stood for awhile but you could see it. You could see they were going to fall. And imagine all the firefighters and first responders. They ran into those buildings, even though they were full of fire and could collapse at any minute. Can you imagine running into a building that looked like that? They ran into those buildings to try and save people.”
At this point I had to stop. My tears were too close to falling.
“Mom, the movie at school talked about the good in 9/11.”
I looked at him. “The good?”
“Well yeah. I mean, it told stories about how people helped each other.”
I nodded. “Yes, people did help each other. They worked together and in the days following 9/11 we all really felt … I don’t know, united, patriotic. You know how people chant USA USA USA? People were chanting that a lot.”
I went on to tell him about how Jay Leno said in his first monologue after the attacks that we’d been sucker-punched. I told him that a concert was given to raise money for the victims and their families and all kinds of artists and celebrities pitched in to help. Tom Petty sang “I Won’t Back Down” and I can remember thinking about what an appropriate song that was to sing, and how I always identify that song with September 11th. I told him how we as Americans knew that our country would fight back, and feeling pride when the news broke that our troops had invaded Afghanistan. I told him that despite all the talk he may hear about the war in Iraq and whether it was justified, that I believe that George W. Bush is a good man, and always had America’s best interests at heart.
Then I told him the story about what happened at the Minneapolis airport, not too long after the attacks. I don’t remember where we were traveling, but our family was waiting for our flight. The gate was so crowded we couldn’t even find seats so we sat on the floor. Finally our plane arrived and the door opened for the passengers to deplane. We watched as service member after service member came through the door and were greeted by their families. I remember tearing up as I watched people hug their loved ones like they never wanted to let them go. And then the coolest thing happened that I will never forget. People started to clap. As the military members and their families started walking through the airport people stopped what they were doing and stood aside to applaud them as they walked by.
It wasn’t planned.
It wasn’t organized.
We were simply Americans, united by tragedy and applauding those who were defending our country.
These are the stories that may not be covered in textbooks, but we can pass them down. What about you? What do you tell your children about that fateful day?