This morning you came into our kitchen and gave me a hug, your arms easily reaching over my shoulders now that you’re a good 4 inches taller than I am. As you sat down for breakfast at the counter, you mentioned some of the pictures your friends were posting on Instagram about 9/11 and how it was really sad all of those people died.
Suddenly, I wasn’t in our kitchen anymore, but sitting in our small apartment in Jackson, TN, thirteen years ago, holding you as I watched the news coverage, waiting for your dad to get home from work so we could just.be.together.
That had been the longest day. It had been a beautiful day, weather wise. No one getting up that morning would have guessed the ugly dark pain that would envelop our country in just a matter of hours. I was the news director for a Christian university, and I remember our graphic designer coming into work, asking “did you hear a plane flew into the World Trade Center?” She’d just been there, visiting New York, a few weeks before.
The few televisions we had sprinkled through the offices were turned on, and I remember the quiet, and the stillness, as we stood, some sitting, hands to faces, hands over mouths, taking in what was happening as the second plane hit the second tower. As we and the rest of the country started realizing the reality of the situation, as word came of another plane flying into the Pentagon, another plane crashing in a field somewhere in Pennsylvania, my phone started ringing, and it rang all day from students and professors helping students who had family in New York and wanted to get in touch with them but couldn’t.
I sat in front of the television that night, holding you, then just six months old, wondering what kind of world you would grow up in.
Because that’s the day everything changed.
That’s the day we watched thousands of people die, we watched fire fighters and paramedics and police rush to help only to die themselves when the towers fell, that’s the day we watched hospital staff helplessly standing outside their ERs ready to assist survivors and no survivors came. That’s the day we began seeing families on the news holding up pictures of their loved ones, plastering them on buildings, asking, begging, for anyone that might know where they were and praying they weren’t actually in the towers when they fell.
But you don’t know that day. Not really. Only from what you’ve been told by us, and from what you’ve learned at school. From pictures you’ve seen and stories you’ve read.
I realized something else this morning, though. You and your 13-year-old friends who were also born that year, in 2001, you don’t know what the day before 9/11 was like either.
You don’t know what it was ever like to walk into the airport and through security without a ticket just to go watch the planes take off and land, or say goodbye to a family member or friend, or say hello to someone arriving.
You don’t know what it was ever like when we didn’t have to get practically undressed to walk through an airport scanner that sees you practically naked anyway, or what it was like to carry your normal size shampoo bottles and toothpaste in your carry-on and not think twice about it.
You don’t really know what patriotism used to look like here in our country, when freedom in America was truly celebrated instead of sometimes debated. You were just a baby and can’t remember the outpour of emotion from so many Americans in those days following 9/11. How people returned to church who hadn’t darkened the door in a while. How people turned to each other, and helped each other, and cared more about each other. These days we’re not as anxious to reach out and help a stranger as maybe we used to be.
You don’t know what it was ever like to play outside for hours at a time or run around the neighborhood. These days, you complain because you never see kids outside when I do try to get you to move away from the xbox. And I wonder if some of that has to do with the fear that settled in many a new parent’s heart that day they watched the planes hit the towers – that you can do everything you can to protect your child, protect your family, protect yourself – and still, there’s an uncertainty that someone may try to hurt you or them anyway. So parents have held on even tighter, and when you and your friends played outside, we sat outside watching, and when you tried to be adventurous, we weren’t always so encouraging. We were more cautious and careful. And maybe as a result, you’re more cautious and careful. And there are days I feel sad about that.
You don’t know what it’s like for our country to not be at war, for service members to be home and not deploying, for military families who weren’t saying goodbye on a regular basis and separated from each other more often than they were together.
You don’t know the difference between military reservists and National Guard service members and active duty members – because their jobs look a whole lot more the same today than they did 13 years ago.
You do know that your dad has deployed 3 times in the last six years, 10 months at a time. You experienced kindergarten to first grade, the challenges of fourth grade to fifth in a different state and a new school, and you spent last year navigating the challenges of 7th grade with just your crazy mom to help you manage the beginning of puberty. You turned 13 while your dad was still away on his last deployment to Afghanistan. You were no longer a little boy when he came home just a month or so later, and you could almost look him eye to eye thanks to the growth spurt you had while he was gone.
You don’t know this, but I think about that lost time sometimes and can’t help but wonder how the last six years might have looked if the towers hadn’t fell that day and you’d grown up with both parents around all the time to hassle you. I think about the families who lost their loved ones that day, and I think about the military families who have since said goodbye to more than 7500 loved ones since we went to war in Afghanistan and then Iraq. I think about the marriages of military that haven’t survived, of the family breakups, all unspoken casualties of war.
You don’t know about all of the loss that happened that day the towers fell, or what we’ve lost since. But you do know some of what’s been gained, even if you don’t realize it.
You know our family doesn’t take each other for granted. Ever.
You know what it means to serve for the good of all, and that even in the struggle and hurt of not having your dad home when you wanted him, that there is something right and good and important about being willing to stand for something important when not everyone else will.
You know that despite the challenges you hear about on the news and the discussions you hear your dad and I having when we’re concerned or we’re frustrated or we’re unhappy with how things seem to be, that the freedoms we have here in America are still worth being proud of, and still worth fighting for.
You know what it means to have a personal relationship with Christ – and for that, I’m so grateful.
You know, or at least I hope you’re learning at 13 years old, that no matter how out of control life can seem sometimes, that God is always in control, and He is who we put our trust in.
You know, or at least we’re trying to teach you, that even when towers fall, whether the physical kind, or the towers in our own lives that represent hopes or dreams or plans that turn into disappointments and hurts when something unexpected doesn’t go our way, you know that God is still there, and we can still put our trust in Him.
It was hard this morning not to get emotional when I thought about all of the loss that’s happened. But it’s also easy to get emotional thinking about all that God has provided. I pray you’ll keep seeing His provision each day as you get older, as you grow emotionally and spiritually, as you listen and learn to trust in Him more and more.
So, maybe now you know why I teared up over cereal as I talked to you about that day 13 years ago. Why I hugged you a little longer before we got in the car to go to school. Why I made you hug your dad this morning instead of your usual “bye dad” wave as you headed out the door.
Remembering the moments of 13 years ago make me appreciate the moments we have today even more.
Let’s not waste any.