My oldest is a kindergartner now. My guess is that this year it’ll come up, and that beautiful, inquisitive little light of my life will ask me, “Daddy, what’s 9/11?”
What to say?
The facts of the matter are that on that day, I watched two planes fly into buildings in New York City where I was staying for the week, whilst another plane skidded across the bike path I’d use for my morning bicycle commute, cracking an enormous hole into the side of the Pentagon. A ton of innocent folks lost their lives that day, and regardless of your persuasion — whether you think it was an act of terror propagated by a foreign faction, or a dastardly conspiracy by our own government, the facts of the matter remain: a lot of people died, and it made a lot of very people very emotional and angry, desperately seeking a target for their rage.
It was something that I experienced at a very personal level – from the Vanilla Sky-esque night of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, when – with the entire island of Manhattan on a complete I Am Legend-style lockdown, I walked around Times Square, looking up and down Broadway, seeing nary a car on the road, and folks crowded into the only two open establishments – McDonalds and Starbucks, trying to recoup what bit of humanity they could still contact. I couldn’t leave Manhattan for another two days, until finally I boarded one of the first Amtrak trains allowed to leave the island. The ride home to DC took thrice the normal time, as the train had to be stopped on several occasions for german shepards and men with guns to search the train yet again, looking for who-knows-what.
As I rode my bicycle to my church the next day, past the enormous hole blasted in the side of the Pentagon, where generals, clerks and adjutants had been incinerated at their desks, I wondered how my own life would be altered by this event.
But then, I realized that was the wrong way to approach this mess, and it gives the key to how I want to approach this heinous day when it comes to tell my daughter about it.
The indisputable fact of 9/11 is that, regardless of the perpetrators who planned and carried it out, it was an act of hatred, calculated to the last degree to beget the maximum amount of hatred in return. That hatred has been directed at religious groups, at nationalities, at political ideologies and at the general population. It’s made everyone into a terrorist, into someone who can’t be trusted, and into a potential threat. And further, by its insinuation that it was perpetrated by members of a fanatical religious group, it’s sown seeds of nihilism that have as their only goal, the undermining of the religious fabric of our world. If people don’t trust each other, don’t hang together and work together, they’re much easier to manipulate and control as individuals.
So, what to tell my kids about 9/11?
9/11 happened. It’s going to be up to my kids themselves to divine fact from fiction, and make up their own minds about the source of the events that transpired, and the intentions of those that did it.
I plan to make sure they know that there is such a thing as evil in this world. It is sometimes overt, but many times is cleverly veiled, but does absolutely exist. Some very evil people perpetrated the events of 9/11, with the aim of making us hate and mistrust each other.
The acts of 9/11 succeeded in justifying our own country to embark on an unabated concatenation of wars and conflicts, which have brought about nothing but more hate, more extremism, more mistrust and less freedom for us all.
And lastly, one can make a choice about how these events will impact your life. You can either be the effect of the hate, the mistrust and the escalating violence, or you can do something about it. If there is one thing every religious group has agreed on, hatred only begets hatred. If you want to be understood, go about understanding your fellows, and that is done through communication. Make an honest effort to understand the beliefs, hopes and dreams of your fellows, and make it possible for others to understand yours. And only then can we all see where we agree with each other.
And only then, can we insure that this sort of thing doesn’t happen again.