(Written September 10, 2011. Reposted September 11, 2014.)
My dearest boys,
One of these days, perhaps in the not so distant future, maybe after you’ve learned about September 11 in school or heard a report about the anniversary on the news, you will ask me if I remember. And I will tell you “yes.”
I will tell you how Daddy and I had been married only seven months when I dropped him off at work and watched him walk into his building carrying a birthday cake for a friend. I will tell you how the sky was blue and the air clean on a day full of the promise of a cool autumn to come. I will tell you about the disbelief that washed over me, as I realized that the sense of safety I had unknowingly lived with my whole life had vanished in an instant. I will tell you about how surreal it was to watch the Twin Towers fall on a television in the staff lounge as a deaf-blind colleague made himself a bagel. I wonder if he knew yet. I wonder who told him. I will tell you about wanting to tell my family I was okay when phone lines were overwhelmed. I will tell you about driving back across town to pick up Daddy from work and being astonished at how deserted downtown DC was. I will tell you about driving to work the next day, under overpasses draped with American flags and into a city teeming with military police. And I will tell you how I cried. Every day. For a long time.
But then I will tell you that heroes are real. And they don’t wear capes. They wear uniforms. And they run into burning, crumbling buildings, hoping to find even one person who needs help finding his way out. They carry briefcases. And they bring down planes so other families won’t have to feel the loss theirs soon will. They drive minivans. And they do their best to create a sense of normalcy for their children who have lost their fathers, though they have just lost their husbands.
I will tell you what it felt like to live in a country where differences were put aside. Distances between people shrank. Strangers helped each other. The definition of neighbor changed.
I will tell you that I learned to live in a world in which I feel vulnerable. I learned that God doesn’t guarantee our safety, but he promises to walk through the storms with us. I learned that that promise must be enough. I learned that I will miss life if I live scared. And I want to live.
I hope I will be able to tell you that that day was the beginning of the end of our world’s fear of cultures and religions different from our own. I pray that I can tell you that we learned that a group cannot be defined by its most radical members. I will tell you that I have learned these things. I have forgiven.
I will tell you that you should ask and we should remember. But just remembering isn’t enough. We must act. I will tell you it is possible to mourn and celebrate at the same time. I will remind you to hug your family and tell them you love them. And I will do just that, my precious boys.
All my love,