September 11, 2001 – The Girl was 8 months old & laying on her playmat in the living room. I was never a big TV watcher so I had the radio on. The Husband called which he never did in the morning. “A plane crashed into the World Trade Center,” he said. “Turn on the TV.” As the daughter of an Air Traffic Controller, I assumed someone at the New York center was about to lose their job.
I’m still on the phone with The Husband at 9:03 am. We’re both watching the news – me from home, him at work. I watch as a plane banks & heads directly for the South Tower. I’m yelling that they need to pull up or move right, unable to comprehend what I’m watching. The Husband is calmly trying to explain the reality of the moment to my completely naive mind. “It’s a terror attack,” he says simply. We stay on the phone for a few more minutes as people start to jump out of the North Tower. I’m yelling again, “Why are they jumping?! Just go the roof! Help is coming!” The naivete is strong in this one. I – along with the rest of the nation – am completely unaware that within a matter of hours 343 firefighters, 60 police officers & 8 paramedics will be gone along with 2,606 civilians.
The Girl was an oblivious 8 months old. But a friend was visiting that day with her 3 year old. “Turn off the TV,” she said. “We’ll have to turn on the radio. I don’t want him watching this.”
The Girl doesn’t remember it first hand. My friend’s son probably doesn’t, either. It’s a history lesson to them. In the days following 9/11 this country was unified like it’s never been before. We were all about ending this faceless enemy who was out to destroy the ideals of America. And we know we’ll never forget, much like our parents will never forget where they were when JFK was shot. We lament that the next generation doesn’t appreciate the horror of that day.
Because the next generation is facing their own horror. We worried about a faceless, nameless enemy. My kids worry about the intimacy of one of their classmates opening fire while looking them in the eye. And instead of uniting the country like it did after 9/11, we are now getting torn apart by the debate about gun control & access to mental health.
I am not trying to discount the evil & horror we all faced on 9/11. Hell, a dear friend was working across the street from the World Trade Center at the time & had to walk miles home to his apartment in New Jersey. He emailed me late that night to say that he was ok & that he didn’t want to talk about it. And while he didn’t die within those first few hours, he was nevertheless a victim of 9/11 when he died 13 years later – never recovering from the horror he witnessed on that day he didn’t want to talk about.
Our evil was remote in a way. “It’s over there.” It’s the unseen enemy. We have military who will deal with that. Our kids’ enemy sits behind him in math or in front of him at the concert, or next to him at his after-school job.
It’s personal for them. This is the age they grew up in. They don’t remember planes crashing into buildings. They don’t remember the days & weeks that followed searching for any possible survivors. What they do remember is a high school like theirs in Parkland, Florida. A club they would go to with their friends like Pulse in Orlando. The Wal-Mart they shop or work at like the one in El Paso, Texas. There is no searching for survivors. The kind of massacre they are used to is intimate & immediate.
We will never forget. I will never forget the dreams I had in the weeks that followed 9/11 of having to escape some danger I couldn’t define with my baby girl. I will never forget my nephew panicking during the ride into Boston to see the circus because he was so afraid a plane would hit it.
But we can’t begrudge a generation their form of terror. Just like we can’t know what it was like when JFK was shot, our kids can’t comprehend the terror we watched unfold 18 years ago.
My kids don’t entirely understand when their teacher or their mom gets emotional talking about today. I can only pray that their kids – my grandkids – won’t understand the horror of a mass shooting. I can only pray that they won’t have something worse to face.