I wrote this on September 11th ahead of schedule, so that's where I'm coming from this week.
I was a reporter at the time and I had to write about it. I called it an “incident” in one of my articles. My editor came to me and, bold, but heartbroken, forcefully told me, “This isn’t an ‘incident.’ It’s an attack! Use the word ‘attack.’”
She woke me up. She verbalized what we were all trying not to think about. Then, she gave me a difficult assignment. I had to interview a mother and father in our hometown whose son was a chef in the restaurant on top of one of the towers. How do you do something like that? How did I do that? I don’t remember. I just know they were proud of their son and will forever be. I thought not to intrude on their grief, but they were gracious.
I went out to dinner with my kids on Monday, all adults now, and we talked about where we were at that time. In 2001, I had a son in college, a daughter in high school, a daughter in junior high and a son in elementary school. I wouldn’t allow the television to be turned on that day. I knew it would scare my younger two. Even so, my youngest son was terrified—a result of terrorism.
He refused to go to school the next day, Wednesday, certain a plane was going to land on his school. I persuaded him that his little school in our rural Pennsylvania town was not a target, though I admit, I did think about our close proximity to Philadelphia.
Still, I kept him home, but talked him into going the next day, Thursday. I got a phone call from the school counselor that he wanted to come home. He was afraid. The counselor gave me the number for the Penn Foundation, a clinic for mental health. On Friday, the social worker there worked with him and he was able to draw his fears with crayons and paper, and she helped him understand what his fears were. I bless that woman.
She said to me, “Your son feels sorry for all the children who might have lost their parents in the towers.” She said, for such a young guy—he was ten—he showed more compassion than was normal for that age. Then she helped us do something about his fears. Service.
There were many fundraisers we participated in so he could help. At the newspaper I was privy to all the activities in the community and there were many for that cause. I know we could have done more than give a dollar and let my son draw his hand to hang on the wall in the school’s cafeteria, but it helped him. Proceeds went to children in New York City. He drew pictures and wrote to the children and his social worker took his letters to the City where she went to help the surviving children cope. She had her work cut out for her. She stayed a long time.
After awhile, my children and I all vacuumed in our collective breath and went on with life in 2001, somewhat oblivious, or in denial, yet feeling the difference in our lives.
Thanks to Joan Burge, who wrote a thoughtful essay called “Be Thankful,” I am reminded of that day, but also the days after, when everyone rallied around the flag, like the Whos in Whoville. And that’s exactly what it reminded me of. The Grinch thought he could ruin their spirit, but his “incident,” his “attack” on the people of Whoville, made them thankful; retrospective; kind; thoughtful; forgiving.
This week I want to thank all the firemen, EMTs, and all the policemen who didn’t rush away from those buildings like most people did. They ran into the buildings. My heart bleeds for families who lost loved ones—heroes—in the towers, in the Pentagon, in the field in Shanksville, in the rescues.
As I woke up this morning, I prayed and thanked my Heavenly Father for my job. I’m blessed to have it. I asked him for opportunities to do some good there every day. It’s where I spend most of my day, so I want to make the most of it. I hope I remember to say “thank you” to my co-workers who help me—and I’ve needed a lot of help this past year.
I hope my children know how much I love them. We never say “good-bye” without following it with “I love you.” Perhaps that was the greatest lesson we learned of all.