|Tribute to Light: memorial lights turned on every year on 9/11 at Ground Zero|
I waited to tell her.
She was born into a post-9/11 world and I never knew quite how to tell her what had happened 18 months before I was lucky enough to become her mom. Every time she's ever been through an airport, she's had to take off her shoes, put liquids into baggies, wait through the long lines. When she was four, she had to poo in her pants even though she was potty-trained because once they put you in the high security line, you are not allowed out, no matter how badly your child cries. And you can't get anything out of your bag, not even a clean pair of pants or some baby wipes. And believe me if the others in line start to complain on your behalf, well your bag gets searched even longer.
But today, after hours of watching the footage over and over again, the very first CNN coverage when no one had any idea that people would take over planes full of other people and use them as weapons of mass destruction...today, I gained empathy for the TSA agents I felt were torturing my child beyond anything they would make an adult endure. Because today I realized that as shitty as their job is, they are trying to protect a people against another attack. Not on their watch. And I have come to respect that now.
I've seen people all day bellyaching about their civil liberties that have been taken away ala the Patriot Act. I myself have reacted in outrage for 10 whole years at how our leaders cowboyed up from the very first press briefing, through years of searching deserts for non-existent weapons and hidden terrorist leaders, draining our coffers to finance a war on terror, a phrase that from the moment I heard it I thought it was a ludicrous oxymoron meant to instill fear not fight it. How can you have a war on an emotion? But my point is, I have played what many would call the "unpatriotic" tune for a decade but today watching those videos, inwardly I nodded when W called them "acts of pure evil" and inwardly I cheered when he vowed to "hunt down those responsible and anyone who harbored them." Seeing the wall of faces of first responders who lost their lives, hearing the names of parents read aloud by their still too young children, it finally hit me why and how the desire for revenge could run so deep.
I still wish we had chosen a different way to respond. I still wish, as my friend Robin said today, to "let kindness fill the breathing space of our differences." And this is the message I wish to somehow convey to my daughter. So on this day, ten years later, at 8.5 years old, I decided maybe she was old enough for me to tell her about it. I'm not certain that it was the right choice at all, now in hindsight. I started by watching the CNN footage with her, with a lot of age-appropriate narration from me. Then switched to NPR for some of the tribute footage from today at all 3 locations. Then looking at video tributes on YouTube, with and without cheesy music accompaniment. Then we played some games, went to the park, but on the way home, she wept. She told me she didn't know if she believed in God after all, if he wasn't able to stop such a thing. I explained why I think God lets us make mistakes and then allows us to learn from them, that there are some things that are definitely wrong in our world and when something like this happens, the people left behind can either live forever hurt by it, or they can chose to try to change it. I offered that maybe she and I could be part of those people who stand up and insist we stop doing the things that make other countries hate us (though all day I grappled at even being able to explain to her what those things are). I tried explaining that while we have bad things in our world like diseases and disability, it is because of those bad things that people have learned how to make medicine and wheelchairs and surgeries that heal and help people. I explained that if God swooped in and stopped all tragedy, that we would never change our world or learn to fix the broken things on our own. She said she didn't want to talk anymore and just held my hand from the backseat of the car until we got home.
Hours later, she still she needed to be rocked to sleep like she hasn't needed in years. My big eight and a half year old girl who barely fits in my lap anymore.
That's how I spent my day and night. In between it all, I'd scan what my friends and acquaintances were sharing about 9/11 on Twitter & Facebook. Then I treated myself to a sitter after my girl was asleep and I went by myself to hear to Ray LaMontagne in concert, outside under the stars and the full moon overlooking the ocean. Ray crooned "When you came to me with your bad dreams and your fears, it was easy to see you'd been crying. Seems like everywhere you turn, catastrophe reigns. But who really profits from the dying? Now I could hold you in my arms. And I could hold on forever. And I could hold you in my arms. I could hold on forever." That song is called Shelter. While he sang it, I looked around at this sleepy coastal town that is my shelter and I counted my blessings. It's all I could think of doing. I thought of loves lost and lives lost and maybe a little too much of my daughter's innocence lost. I feel both lost and found in this town, sometimes. After the concert, I walked down the steep path to the parking lot, deeply inhaling the chaparral and sage and olive trees that grow on the hillside and I felt lucky, so lucky to be alive, to be smelling these beautiful smells here in this beautiful world, and lucky to have a sweet, small girl who depends on me to filter the heavy smoke of this story from her eyes and her lungs, so that she can breathe the sweet night air without fear.
And I realized how every mother's child depends on all of us for this kind of protection. It's the job of each of us to do what we can to bring peace to this world. We cannot sit back in our comfortable worlds and think that this has nothing to do with us. We must never forget and we must hold on to one another and never let go until we all feel safe, until every last one of us can fall asleep finally without fear. We are each other's shelter.