13 years after 9/11, a note to my 13-year-old son

Dear Caleb,

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.

Remember. Never forget.

Remember. Never forget.


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.


Homecoming 2007

Homecoming 2007





Homecoming 2011

Homecoming 2011



Homecoming 2014


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.


  1. Nikki on Thursday, September 11, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    That was amazing. Thank you for sharing that. I know many of can remeber where we were when we first got the news. I think that is so etching that will forever lay in our hearts and mind.

    • Sara Horn on Thursday, September 11, 2014 at 4:21 pm

      Thank you Nikki. Definitely a day we will never forget.

  2. Marden on Thursday, September 11, 2014 at 2:58 pm

    Wow… IT’s really AMAZING… May GOD continue Bless this Country SPECIALLY thoses who LOST the LOVE ones! BEAUTIFUL And THANKS for sharing!

    • Sara Horn on Thursday, September 11, 2014 at 4:22 pm

      Thank you Marden! I appreciate you reading!

  3. Christi Marcinick on Thursday, September 11, 2014 at 3:25 pm

    Ty my son too is 13!! This hit home!!

    • Sara Horn on Thursday, September 11, 2014 at 4:22 pm

      Hi Christi! Then you definitely understand! Thanks for reading. 🙂

  4. melody ross on Thursday, September 11, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    Thank you Sara

    • Sara Horn on Thursday, September 11, 2014 at 4:23 pm

      You are so welcome, Melody! Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Melanie Brashears on Thursday, September 11, 2014 at 3:36 pm

    Thank you so much for this. My son was also 6 months old and my husband is currently serving in Afghanistan on his 6th deployment. I feel like this is my story. Thank you for putting words to my feelings!

    • Sara Horn on Thursday, September 11, 2014 at 4:24 pm

      You’re so welcome, Melanie. It’s definitely not an easy life when you’re a military wife. Thank you for what your husband does, and thank you for what you do to support him. I hope if you haven’t already, you’ll check out my ministry, Wives of Faith, at wivesoffaith.org. There are some great blog posts of encouragement for military wives written by military wives.

  6. Heather on Thursday, September 11, 2014 at 6:16 pm

    My daughter is 13. I remember the panic. Wanting to stock up on things. Not knowing what was going to happen next. I ask her when she got home from school if 9/11 was discussed today. She said very briefly at the end of the day. So we as parents have to talk to our kids. I saved many newspapers days after in hopes one day she can do something in school with them.

    • Sara Horn on Friday, September 12, 2014 at 8:49 am

      I have those newspapers too somewhere. I think schools have a hard time knowing how much to share and how much they shouldn’t. I remember a lot of coverage about that in the weeks following 9/11 – and I think even some of the news anchors had some type of kid-gatherings, panels, shows that tried talking to kids about what had happened and what they were feeling. It’s definitely a challenge for parents too – you don’t want to scare them, but you also want them to know the significance of what our country experienced. Thanks for commenting!

  7. maria on Thursday, September 11, 2014 at 7:48 pm

    Thank you. The students I taught today were 13 yrs. Or younger and when it was brought up some of those negative thoughts came to me. I needed to see the positive thoughts too.

    • Sara Horn on Friday, September 12, 2014 at 8:50 am

      Absolutely, Maria! Me too – that’s part of the reason I wrote – I realized I was thinking about all of the loss, and I needed to remember that despite the loss, there are things we’ve gained too. Thanks for coming by and reading. 🙂

  8. Ronda Gillam on Thursday, September 11, 2014 at 8:45 pm

    You had me in tears the whole way through. It is so hard knowing that day changed our world so much and that our kids will never know what life was like before 9/11. I’ve been able to share it with countless classes since then and it never gets easier. It does get stranger as the years go on, because they don’t know about 9/11 and the connections are not there anymore. Thanks for this letter! It really moved me!

    • Sara Horn on Friday, September 12, 2014 at 8:52 am

      You’re so welcome Ronda. Thanks for sharing, and as a teacher, thanks for doing what you can to help kids know. Appreciate you commenting!

  9. Courtney on Thursday, September 11, 2014 at 9:18 pm

    Thank you for such beautiful words. My son was just a month old and his dad’s family lived very close to the horror so i was in a panic trying to get in touch with them.

    • Sara Horn on Friday, September 12, 2014 at 8:52 am

      You’re welcome. Thanks for reading and taking the time to share.

  10. Regina Cummings on Saturday, September 13, 2014 at 10:35 am

    Beautifully said. Big thank you to your whole family for serving for our freedom. God is good all the time and all the time God is good. He is with us through all our trials. 🙂

  11. Sue Bean on Saturday, September 13, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    Very good article, Sara and I enjoyed reading it. 9/11 is a day that will never go away and we will never forget.

  12. Wendy on Saturday, September 13, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    Thank you for sharing. So well put. I was pregnant with my son at the time and was preparing for my husband to go on his next deployment, this really hit home.

  13. haitiruth on Monday, September 15, 2014 at 10:19 am

    Thanks for this – I shared it with my eighth graders, many of whom are also 13 this year.

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