Sunday, September 11, 2011

The surprising aftermath: comfort

I can't quite think about this day yet - and as much as part of me wanted to watch and remember the events of ten years ago, another part of me didn't. Not sure how many other people felt that way.

Ten years ago, they were 10, 10 and 11. Old enough to be aware, ask perplexing questions, witness our own confusion and retain the memories of a country in shock. And now at 20, 20 and 21, they have virtually grown up recognizing and living with the reality of a world of terrorist activity.

As I cherish and recognize the amazing young men my sons have grown into, I recall this piece they inspired, written in November, 2001. I hope it offers a moment of comfort.

Thank you, boys.

Over the past few weeks, a time that will be forever mourned in our nation and around the world, you’ve taught me that innocence still exists, that understanding and compassion do not come with an age requirement and that life does indeed go on.

This year, on a Thanksgiving that will take on a very different tone across the country, I’m especially grateful for you, my sons. You held my hand, rubbed my arm, or simply inched a little closer on the sofa, not completely understanding the depth of my sadness on September 11 and the days that followed. You served as silent witnesses to my own pain and confusion.

But somehow you knew that touch was a good thing, that closeness would matter. You felt my tears as I hugged you a little more tightly than I had the days before, and you offered 10- and 10- and 11-year-old comfort. You couldn’t know how many nights following September 11 I looked in on you as you slept, silently thanking God for the miracle of you.

Through you, I can still see hope where grownups feel despair. A promise of tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, while the world swirls in seemingly endless threats and anxiety. I sense innocence and uncertainty about what happened and what’s to come; surprisingly mixed with an unceasingly kid-like attitude of frivolity and optimism. Is it possible to remind someone of the future? That’s what you do everyday.

When you’re my age, will you talk about this event with your own children and add: “I have a clear memory of your grandmother crying, watching TV and trying to explain it to me.”

Will you remember your teachers, quietly gathering in the hallways of school, trying so desperately not to betray their horror and anxiety to their students? Will you tell the story of one teacher, returning to the classroom with her eyes red, looking at her class and saying, “Do you all know how much you mean to me?”

Will you forever hold the mental image of your father and me, leaning on each other in church on Sunday, September 16, as we ended Mass with ‘The Star-Spangled Banner?”

Through the endless, hysterical quotes you throw at each other from your many “Calvin and Hobbes” books, your enthusiasm for football and basketball practices for the Christmas concert coming up, the almost-every-Saturday morning “can we ride our bikes to…?” questions, and your restless anticipation of the Harry Potter movie and the half-dread you feel in case it’s not quite “right,” you remind me that the world goes on and we will somehow help each other through.

You helped me understand that sometimes “Shrek,” not CNN, is what we need to get through the evening.

The good stuff has not disappeared. Thank you, boys, for helping me appreciate that "stuff" for the gift it truly is. Babies are born and new parents praise their miracles. Young couples marry and celebrate with family and friends. And sometimes, just sometimes, you have glorious fall Sunday afternoon come along for the perfect flag football game.

When you confronted me with the “What happened today?” question on September 11, I had no ready answer. I’m not sure who did. But maybe I do now.

What happened was this: September 11 gave me the chance to tell you again how much I love you. How thankful I am to have you in my life. How simply by being here, you’ve helped restore my perspective and my priorities, and have reminded me each day about what matters.

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