Perhaps the last thing the world needs is another reflection on 911. I haven't turned on the TV, because I didn't really know how I felt today, and I didn't wanted the media telling me how I should feel. But I did have a strong urge to acknowledge this anniversary. There are so many conflicting emotions that it brings up, and I am raising two children who are at an age where they can engage in a conversations about the world and learn. And finally, I follow Jake Tapper on twitter and he was posting about the memorial service so I clicked a few links, and the memories began flooding back.
I showed Liam (my 13 yo) Paul Simon singing, "Sounds of Silence" and he and I talked about the memorial service. One of Liam's earliest memories is of the memorial service we attended on the 1st anniversary in 2002. Liam was one week from turning three. To a three year old boy, there are few things greater in life than firefighters and police officers. As we stood on the grass, they began to show images from 911, and of course many of these images were of firefighters. He was excited and asking questions. I explained gently that there had been a terrible tragedy and we were remembering the people who lost their lives. I told him that many firefighters had gone into buildings to rescue people, but before they’d been able to get them out, the buildings had collapsed, and everyone in them had died, so we were at a memorial service to honor and remember their lives and sacrifice.
As a parent, it’s hard to know for sure how various events in life and the words you say will shape your child’s memories. But over the years, Liam has never forgotten that service. When we would say 911 or memorial he would always talk about how he remembered the images of firefighters and how they had died trying to save people.
Today I talked to Liam as a young adult; he is learning how the world works and this certainly felt like a moment to share a more grown up perspective on that day and the events that have transpired since 9/11/2001.
Tapper posted a link to a short clip that ABC put together to try and capture some of the incredulity and helplessness that we all felt as events spiraled around and around out of our control. Liam watched with me, and while I know he’s heard about the events and knows in general what happened, I don’t think he’s ever seen a retrospective of the day’s events as they happened.
The newscast showed the burning first tower and the announcer was talking about the event when suddenly there was the second plane diving into the other tower. The emotional impact on the newscasters conveyed the absolute horror of that moment. I don’t believe Liam had ever seen this footage, and I know I haven’t watched it for many years. As the video progressed they showed the Pentagon in flames and the aircraft down in Pennsylvania.
How do you put an event like this into perspective for a growing person? Harder still, how do I explain to him everything that happened AFTER 911? How do you reconcile the immense sense of coming together we all felt in the hours and days after 911 with the almost equal sense of betrayal so many of us felt in the years after, when politicians blared their patriotism with images of the burning towers, but questioned mine when I didn’t agree with their policies. How do I tell him they said, “You’re either with us or against us” and if you questioned the government your patriotism was put in doubt?
How do I do that when I can hardly even coming to grips with it myself?
I can’t forget the selling of the Iraq war ("From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August" -- Andy Card) and the merging in people’s minds of Osama Bin Laden with Saddam Hussein. At anti-war vigils I attended people would shout, “How can you forget 911?!” as if the invasion of Iraq had everything to do with that terrible event and I was an awful person for not supporting the war.
One day, Liam and I were driving, he must have been 6 or 7, and he asked me why we were fighting in Iraq. He knew that I opposed the war. (I even have a picture of him with me at a rally in downtown Cannon Falls) I reminded him of the firefighters, and for the first time connected the events of 9/11 to the idea that the buildings had been intentionally targeted by a group attacking our country. I will NEVER forget his response. He said, “But Mom, then I don’t agree with you. If they attacked us, then we were right to fight back.” So I had to tell him Iraq didn’t attack us on 911, none of the hijackers were Iraqi’s, and there were no Al Qaeda operatives in Iraq prior to 911.
How do you explain this stuff to a child, when you cannot even understand it yourself?
I want to honor and remember what our country lost. I want to stand with the families who lost so much and support them. I even want a moment to feel my own pain and grief around that day, but everything is tempered. The meaning of 911 was taken away by every invocation of 911 as a talisman to do things that were anathema to the ideals of our country: things like torture, the revocation of Habeas Corpus, Abu Grebe and Guantanamo.
All amplified by politicians questioning our patriotism.
So I salute the firefighters who have given so much, I salute the families who lost loved ones, and I remember what we all lost on that day. And for today I refuse to let what has transpired over the past 10 years take away my memories and feelings of that day.