It seemed particularly poignant and appropriate today, just minutes after we adults had sat upstairs in the sanctuary and shared memories and prayers about the day none of us will ever forget.
When I think about 9/11, I remember the fliers. Thousands of fliers — reports have said 90,000 — fluttering in the ash-coated breeze during the long nights and days and weeks after the dust had settled but the devastation was still settling in.
In those first days of shock we were not ready to accept all that we’d lost; instead we searched in vain for what we might find. We made “Missing” signs, with pictures and phone numbers and heart-wrenching descriptions of the last outfits so many ever wore. Tacked up everywhere — hopeful, depressing, haunting.
Those fliers probably come to mind because I still feel guilty for having the thoughts I did every time a broadcaster would pan to a wall covered with them, or hand over the mic to a loved one holding up a crumpled sign, desperately searching for her brother, or mother, or friend.
You’re not going to find her, I’d think. She’s gone. They’re all gone. And then to make up for my cynicism and doubt, I’d say a little prayer.
Please let this woman find her lost loved one, Lord. Please comfort those who are grieving, and those who will be grieving soon. Amen.
It was an empty prayer. Or so I thought at the time.
This past week I mostly avoided all commentary about 9/11, as I didn’t want to see it again. The footage that shows the second plane smashing into the second tower is cartoonish, surreal. The images of people jumping … who needs to see that again.
What I haven’t been able to avoid are the emails and blog posts and questions from parents and parenting websites, all talking about the same thing: “How will you tell your children about 9/11?” “What will you tell them about that day?”
It’s a question I never really pondered until this year, as Kostyn is getting big enough to question what he sees and to really wonder about the world around him. If he happened to catch any footage of those twin towers billowing with smoke, he’d definitely ask me about it.
Luckily, he hasn’t seen it.
For many people, 9/11 drained the color from the world, leaving only black and white. Entire countries, ethnicities, even religions were lumped into a category — good or evil. In our house, right now, there is no good vs. evil. There are no guns or swords or battles. (There are, however, many, many wrestling matches.) There are superheroes, of course, but they don’t fight bad people, they just run really really fast and jump really really high (and, on a good day, put their own shoes on with lightning speed, or zoom upstairs to “rescue” something for Mommy).
I know there is evil in the world, and someday my boys will too. But they will never see that day in black and white. They will never see only “They did this to us.” When we talk about 9/11 in our house, we will focus on how that day was filled with love. There was loss, yes, grief and horror, but everywhere you looked there was love. Love prevailed inside the airplane that crashed near Shanksville, PA. There was deep, abiding love for country shown with every American flag, sign, pin, T-shirt and banner that showed up overnight and remained displayed for weeks, months. There was love in every rescue worker who risked it all for a skyscraper full of strangers. Love by the hundreds as we lined up across the country to donate our own blood, just in case. Love by the truckload as rescue workers, welders, doctors and parishioners gathered supplies and headed to Ground Zero from states near and far. There was love in every quivering broadcaster’s voice who could barely hold it together during a news update.
There was love scribbled hastily on every one of those fliers.
One day my boys will watch what happened on TV and their mouths will hang open in disbelief, as ours did in real time. But when they turn to ask me about it, I will focus on the love. I will tell them about the bravery and courage and patriotism, and how my heart was broken that night when I went to bed but it was also so incredibly full. I had never felt closer to my fellow man — my fellow Americans, yes, but just mankind in general. The entire world paused on 9/11, turned toward us, wept with us, prayed for us, loved us.
It was, despite its raw horror, an amazing day.
So I will tell them about the fliers, and how they represented hope, the enduring hope that hundreds, then dozens, then perhaps even just one person, please God even one, would be found alive.
Hope. Courage. Honor. Faith. Patriotism. Love. These are the things I will tell them about 9/11. We will always remember, and mourn for what is lost. But I think it’s just as important — no, more important — to remember and celebrate what we did not lose. What we found in abundance, in reserves we didn’t even know we had.