I have five children who were born before 9-11.
I have three children who were born after.
My oldest three children remember that day well. We were visiting my brother, sister-in-law, and niece. My oldest kids were 10, 7, and 4 at the time. As events unfolded, we allowed the oldest two, young as they were, to watch selected portions of the edited news coverage. I wouldn’t change that. It was horrible and it was historic. At the time, I don’t think they could understand the magnitude of what was happening, but it was important to include them. The four-year-old had been at the store with his uncle when all the television monitors in the electronics section interrupted their shopping with breaking news.
So the four-year-old ended up being the child who knew first and saw more of the unedited footage. Today, he is my child who is most passionate about this history of this country, its issues, governance, and rights.
We shielded our two-year-old from the television that day, keeping her busy with her same-age cousin. We took turns, my husband, brother, sister-in-law and I, watching the kids in the playroom of the house, then switching out to come watch the news coverage again, the next adult heading to the playroom to be with the kids. Televised horror to the simplicity of children at play. And back again.
I remember holding my fifth child. He was five weeks old at the time, and I didn’t want his newborn ears in the presence of the dialog unfolding on cable news. I felt like the world had been ruined for him, young as he was. I felt inexplicably guilty, that somehow I had brought him into a world like this.
The world shifted that day.
My next three children were born into a post 9-11 world. They’ve never known American history without the defining imagery of the World Trade Center and planes going into buildings and TSA lines that snake endlessly through our airport terminals. I wonder how that has shaped them, and if it has shaped them differently than their siblings who remember ‘before’.
For all of my children, here is what I do know. I have a responsibility. To tell them. To remind them of America’s brightness and how that freedom is not to be taken for granted. To let them know that evil seeks to create change through chaos.
That love is more powerful.
I have a responsibility to have my children watch the footage. Every year. Yes, we take some time each year on this day and talk through the events, remind ourselves with the news coverage. It’s not an easy thing to view. Important lessons rarely are.
And perhaps my children, your children, these children who now only know this country in the seventeen year aftermath, perhaps they are better prepared. I grew up only knowing an America that was untouchable, an impenetrable nation that kept all enemies at arm’s length. It was a fiction that felt real. My children know an America that has been intentional about the safety of its citizens on its own soil. An America where freedom cannot be assumed. An America that isn’t coveted and appreciated by all but is vilified and demonized by some.
It’s my hope it makes them better citizens, more aware voters, people of stronger grace and empathy and compassion. More aware than I was at their ages. More engaged in the complex dialogue of the identity of a nation and its relationship to its allies and enemies.
And I think it is.