Lessons from 9-11

We revisit memories of 9-11 on a non-anniversary date for a change.

I've probably mentioned this before, but I think it's important to mention it again. Especially as recently, I've been asked to explain more.

Lots of lessons were learned after the tragedy of 9-11,  more than ten years ago now.  But I find I think back to that day, and to the events of that week a lot.

When I first got the call from a family member to wake up and turn on the TV, I didn't understand the gravity of the situation... except that a plane had run into the world trade center.  (The first such crash was actually in the Great Depression and involved the Empire State Building during heavy fog.)

But while flipping between channels and watching the coverage, it became more clear that this was not just an ordinary crash, and that something of historical significance was going down.

My kids were in elementary school, and my wife at work. I wasn't due at work for hours, though I called in to see if there was anything they needed me for.  The answer was no...nothing to be done.

My thoughts turned to my daughter, then in elementary school and about to have lunch. I decided to walk down the few blocks to the school and share lunch hour with her in the school cafeteria as a treat, and a special bond to share with her.

I stopped in the school office and informed them of what was going on in the country. They had no idea, and to tell the truth, there was really no reason for them to know or to change the school day at all.  But some of the teachers had grown sons and daughters who were in the military, and we're concerned the nation was on alert.

I greeted my daughter, and let her know this was a special day.  Without scaring her, I told her that for the rest of her life, she was going to want to remember this day, where she was, what was happening in her life.  She didn't seem overly impressed, as I had come to eat with her before in the past.  But I let her know that a plane had run into the tallest building in New York City, and that it was a tragedy... a disaster...and that there were going to be lots and lots of casualties.  She didn't get upset, but finished her meal with her friends, like normal.

But what happened next will always stay with me.  I looked up as another mother entered the lunch room, and scanned the room for her child. Spotting her daughter, she rushed over and plucked her up from the table. Hugging her child, she started to cry and bolt for the door, until she locked eyes with me.   We both recognized each other.  I just nodded in acknowledgment, as she hugged her child,  and slowed her pace to a fast walk.  She left, somewhat more under control. I'd like to think that I calmed her some, just by being there and not flying off the handle.

I reflected on the fact that this woman was from New York and had only recently moved into our college community. No doubt, she had friends and family in the New York City area, and fearing the worst, she wanted her child with her for whatever was to come.  That was her mother's instinct.

My thoughts were a little different, as I knew we were not at risk in the MOV (not knowing of United Flight 93 yet) and realizing that this was a red letter day... much like my experience of when JFK was shot and killed back in 1963.   I recall the principal making an announcement that the school was releasing early due to the president being shot and that we should proceed straight home.  I didn't know it happened in Dallas until much later.  On the way home, my friends and I were bragging to each other who felt worse about it, the shock and the wonder of it all. We had no experience with a Kennedy shooting before.  We didn't know how to put it into the context of our lives.

It had been my hope that I could help put this day in perspective for my kids, and give them a positive memory to reflect on and remember all their lives... as opposed to the other mother, who was going to frighten her child by over-reacting (and maybe with good reason).

As we get farther from the event, the ripples and repercussions of the day become more clear.  And I still remember the endless media coverage, the sense of not knowing the answers or what would happen next.

But life went on for my family, pretty much unchanged.  And that's the way it should be. Another day at school in a seemly endless stream...except, that was the day that Dad came to lunch with bad news.  I hope my daughter values this as she grows older.

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