When my kids were younger, I remember asking someone how I would ever talk to them about 9/11. We live in a New Jersey town where lots of people commute to Manhattan; our community lost more than a dozen that day, and we were close enough to see the smoke that rose above Ground Zero. It was a terrifying, world-changing day. I couldn’t imagine telling my kids about this horrible day without frightening them.
Here we are, 14 years later. Matthew, who was a newborn on that day in 2001, is now a high school freshman, and Michael is in 5th grade. They both know about 9/11. They’ve learned about it in school, and we’ve talked about it at home. I’ve realized as they’ve grown that because they didn’t share the collective fear that encompassed us on that day, they would never feel the same as those of us who lived through it. I’m grateful for that.
Even though we were fortunate to have not lost people close to us on 9/11, we have friends with stories of their journeys out of lower Manhattan that day. I was on maternity leave from my job, and watched the events unfold on NBC. I recall yelling upstairs to Dave that “some idiot just flew a plane into the World Trade Center.” But when the second plane hit, we all knew it was something more than that. Our sense of security would never be the same.
As the years have passed and the memories aren’t as fresh, my thoughts of the day are less frightening. But each year, I can still recall the crystal clear, blue September sky that morning. The reporters on TV, who were at an absolute loss for words as to how to explain what was going on. The air that day, which shifted from a crisp early autumn breeze, to a smell that I still can’t describe and have never smelled again, but that I’m sure was from all that was going on just 20 miles away. The sinking feeling in my stomach when I watched the first tower fall live on TV. The relief at realizing that all the people we knew could have been affected were safely away from danger.
I also recall the first anniversary of 9/11, listening to the reading of the names of those who died that day, and crying, as I do each year. I’m still not sure why. And teaching my second semester of a college public speaking course on that first anniversary, suspending my lecture for the day and offering students the opportunity to come to the front of the class and talk about their own experiences of that day a year earlier. Some couldn’t do it. Others did and broke into tears.
I realize now that on some level, 9/11 has become a bond that those of us who lived through it will always share. It seems that many people want to talk about how they experienced the day. I’m no different. I’d think that we’d want to forget the chaos and tragedy that was going on, but it seems that there’s some comfort in talking about what we were doing at each moment.
I’m glad that talking about 9/11 with my kids hasn’t enveloped them with fear, as I thought it might. When Matthew was about 9 or 10, he asked me some questions about 9/11, and we talked about it. He looked at me thoughtfully, and just said, “Wow, sounds like a scary day.”