Young kids don’t tend to hang onto details too well, so I try to remind them each year in advance about what happened on Sept. 11, 2001, because it always comes up — how could it not? The details have long been burned in my brain.
On that day, I was on the last leg of an overnight drive home to Nebraska for a college newspaper reunion as I heard the radio announcer break in to announce that a plane hit one of the twin towers, then another. That reunion was canceled, of course, as everyone rushed back to cover the attack on our nation. The next several years of my life, I was glued to my newspaper’s wire desk, reading hundreds of stories streaming in each day out of Washington, New York and Pennsylvania, then Iraq and Afghanistan. There probably wasn’t even one day I worked in the following 5 years where I didn’t help put together a front-page story that touched some aspect of the 9/11 attacks and their aftermath.
My twins were born with a little distance from that intense time period, though. They have mostly learned about the terrorist attack in school through books and videos, and a little bit of TV news. But at the cusp of turning 11 years old, do they really grasp the gravity of what happened? I don’t think so.
I asked Kayla what she remembers about Sept. 11, and her answer was: “I only know that there were twin towers that fell, and a lot of people died. Planes crashed into them, I think.”
Kendall echoed that almost exactly: “A lot of people died.”
A change in our culture
Not only was there an enormous loss of life that day, but so many things about our culture changed.
Flying in an airplane is generally not the fun, breezy experience it once was, not to mention the requirements COVID piled on top of already cumbersome X-rays, bag searches and bare feet streaming through TSA checkpoints. The twins have never flown on a plane; their older sister Ava’s only gone once. Family in the Midwest is a two-day drive away from Charlotte, but we pack up the minivan when we get a chance to visit.
Racism against Middle Easterners — and anyone else who might appear “foreign” — exploded after 9/11. This always seems to be a problem with certain relatives who are bound and determined to spread hateful viewpoints, and it grates at my soul. Thankfully, my children know better than to suck that in and spit it back out.
Kids born in the shadow of 9/11 have also grown up with many of their parents shipping off to fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, 24-hour news cycles highlighting deadly bombings and a culture of TV and movies focused on war.
Plenty of people choose to shield their children from these things, thinking the weight of the world is too heavy for little ones to bear. But as a mother who has spent her life in newsrooms, working to keep the public informed about what’s happening out there, I can’t make that choice. I may keep things simple and let their knowledge build over time as they build understanding, but I think it’s important they know they have a pretty charmed life in America.
And another thing that’s always forefront on my mind, especially when Sept. 11 approaches, is that as bad as things can be out there, there is good in the world, too. We can choose joy — and sometimes we need to choose that joy — especially when there is precious life to celebrate.
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