When I was a child, I remember my parents telling us stories of where they were when President John F. Kennedy was shot. Their voices grew solemn, their eyes filled with tears and their words shook with the gravity of a memory that changed them forever and could never be erased.
Young as I was, I heard their admiration, their reverence, and the words that the young inspiring President’s assassination shook the security they had once taken for granted. But I couldn’t relate to it.
From where I stood, I lived in the greatest, richest, safest nation on the planet. We reigned supreme. We were boastfully proud to be American. We took for granted the very freedoms our ancestors had fled their homelands for and found here.
This morning, my eldest son – who was born six months after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 – said, “I don’t understand what the big deal is about September 11th.”
My husband, who is not in the least bit dramatic, grew quiet. He explained how frantic he was when the planes destroyed the World Trade Centers, how he couldn’t reach his parents in Washington, D.C., after the plane hit the Pentagon. We tried to convey how life-altering that day was for us, how it changed us so completely.
And I knew that he nodded his head because he trusts us but he cannot relate. He’s read stories about children born after that fateful day whose fathers were killed on 9/11. His eyes welled up at the idea of never having met a parent. But thankfully, it isn’t something he can truly relate to.
Since my children were born, there have never been Twin Towers on our American landscape. But we live in the sleepy Midwest, so even the Pennsylvania field where another plane crashed and killed dozens of people is very far away. Their notion of Pennsylvania is the green leafy splendor of the mountains we drove through to our beach vacation this summer.
It is amazing to me that what is life-changing, ground-shaking and never-able-to-forget for one generation is an overtold story for another. That what sets the foundation of our lives is so personal and unreachable for others.
A friend said this morning that the energy of this week is because of the trepidation around this coming anniversary on Sunday. I don’t know.
I know that my life is so different today than it was on that morning ten years ago. Then, I lived in my first house small bungalow house, I was newly married to someone I no longer share life with, I had my first long-awaited child growing in my belly. I remember wondering if my baby would have a future to grow up in. I remember being very, very scared. I remember feeling sad. I remember thinking that my only hope was the baby growing inside me.
He’s 9 now and in 4th grade. He looks like me, he feels things deeply, he cries easily and fights for people’s feelings. He is smarter than anyone I know. He reads constantly. He is hilarious. He is serious. He is adorable. He still loves to cuddle beside me in bed.
And I have three other children now – two I gave birth to, one I received as a gift when I married her father in June. I live in a different house. The children are all grown up enough to attend the same school. Their lives are unfolding. And thankfully, there is still a world in which for them to grow and dream and hope.
It may be unthinkable to us who lived through it that our children cannot really relate to 9/11. But maybe that’s the way it is, as it is with all things for the young: the sense of invincibility is a necessity to take the world by storm, to take chances. I grant them their innocence and I marvel at it. It’s their turn now. And maybe it is a better world for them.