Children & 9/11

Flip through the pages of the blog and you’ll find multiple posts about my experiences with and on September 11.

You’ll see the posts about how I watched the towers fall on television while my ten month old son built and knock down block towers. You’ll come across the story about one my oldest friends and how a ton of his colleagues died that day.

Depending on what post you read you might come across my story about how I was supposed to be at the Javits Center for a trade show and how if I had gone I would have stayed to meet with clients.

But this year I am not writing or thinking about that because my kids are old enough to have begun asking some very pointed questions. Old enough to try to reason and rationalize why horrible things happen and to ask me what we can do.

What Answers Do I Give Them?

We have had some of these discussions before. We have talked about 9/11 and what happened. We have discussed why Martin Luther King was assassinated and talked at length about the Holocaust.

It makes me sad to think about how horrified they were to hear about gas chambers and to learn just how many times humans have lost our humanity.

They don’t know anyone who died on 9/11 but they know their cousins do. They know their cousins know children who lost parents, grandparents and aunts/uncles.

They know our country was attacked and that it is possible something could happen again.

We don’t live our lives in fear. They don’t wander around wondering if something is going to happen. They know that there is a greater chance of getting hurt by falling off of a bike or out of a tree but they also know sometimes things that are improbable and horrible can happen.

When I heard them talking about what they had learned in school and heard them say mom and dad might not be able to protect them from hijackers part of me wanted to scream.

In part because it is true. In part because after Sandy Hook my son told me not to worry because he sat by the door and figured he could be out the door before he would get shot.

I heard that and wondered what the fuck has happened. When did things turn. When did life get so mixed up and crazy that this kind of thing could be said and not be a joke.

When they ask questions I wonder about what answers to give them.

How Honest Should I Be?

I am certain they really don’t walk around in fear. I am confident they spend the overwhelming majority of their time just being kids but there is a silent scream of frustration that I never voice.

That is because I want them to see dad doesn’t walk around in fear because I don’t. And I want them to feel like my protection wards them from all harm everywhere.

I know this is not true but I need for them to be confident that I will do whatever I can. When my son asks me if I would be willing to kill someone to protect our family I say it is not a question and then I wonder again how we reached such a place.

When these conversations come up about horrible events and my ten year-old says she thinks people are too smart to do these things now I wonder how honest should I be.

How much of her innocence should I take to try and make sure she is protected and how much should I protect to see that she isn’t hurt in a different way.

The world is still filled with magic and mystery. I still believer there is far more good than bad but it is during these moments where we remember those we lost that I find myself wishing that for a little while I could put these kids in a bubble and just let them live without these worries.

9-11 Because Memory Is Not Silent

911

We knew our childhood days were done
And I watched my friends go off to war
What do they keep on fighting for? Lenningrad- Billy Joel

I remember the day I signed up for Selective Service. It was a sunny day in May of ’87, might have been my birthday or maybe a few days afterwards, I don’t really remember.

Some of the boys and I kidded around about whether we’d have to fight those Commie Bastards and talked about how our grandfathers had helped to kick Hitler’s ass and told Japan to go suck it.

Hindsight and age makes it easier to look back and say that part of me was nervous. I didn’t really expect to be called up and sent off to war but I was certain if I did I would go fight the Russians because the Cold War was still in effect and we knew the Soviet Union was our biggest threat.

We remembered the joy of beating the Russians in ’80 and hearing the stories about how Reagan wasn’t going to take any crap from Brezhnev.

School Yard Memories

My parents were registered democrats which is why in first grade I voted for Carter over Ford. Can’t say that I remember them saying much about Reagan beating Carter but I definitely remember talk about the Hostage crisis and a conversation we had when John Hinckley tried to assassinate President Reagan.

My dad worked for L.A. County for 38 years. Mom stayed home until my baby sisters went to kindergarten and then she went back to work.

Dad didn’t serve in Vietnam. He was in the Peace Corps, came home, got married, started grad school and when I showed up became a father.

Dad sat me down in kindergarten and told me that I had to stand up for myself and that if another boy hit me I was allowed to hit them back.

There were two rules:

  1. They had to hit me first.
  2. If I chose to hit them back I was to hit them as hard as I could.

He made it clear that he wanted me to avoid getting into fights but that if I couldn’t I was to defend myself.

You’re Cannon Fodder

I am about almost 20 and I am thinking about enlisting in the Marines. Girlfriend has broken up with me, college seems endless and I am restless.

Dad catches wind of this and tells me that boys my age are cannon fodder and talks about how the people who control wars aren’t the ones out on the battlefield.

I am furious for a million reasons not the least of which is I don’t like being told I am a boy. I am a college student and have spent so many hours in the gym I am all muscle.

I choose not to enlist because I don’t want some 18 year-old boy screaming at me. I don’t tell dad his words are bouncing around my head.

Not so long afterwards I attend more than a few goodbye parties for guys who are going off to fight the first Gulf War.

September 11, 2001

I have blogged about this many times. My son is ten months old and is playing with blocks. He builds towers and knocks them down.

In the background we watch the planes fly into the Towers and see them collapse. It takes the news a moment to stop showing the people jumping out of the building but there is no doubt that things are bad.

There is no doubt in my mind that in the very near future the U.S. is going to go to war, but I don’t wonder if I’ll go. I am 31, it is not going to be me this time.

I look down at the boy playing at my feet and hope that by the time he is 18 things have calmed down.

September 2013

Iraq isn’t completely settled down and Afghanistan is still hot. Syria is using chemical weapons on its own people and the world can’t decide what to do about it.

I spent a chunk of Tuesday night helping my son with his Bar Mitzvah lessons and working on 7th grade homework. He told me about his day and made me laugh.

We’re two hours ahead of L.A. here in Texas so 9/11 has started and I can’t help but think about the day. Like I said, I have blogged about it plenty of times so I am not going to rehash it all today.

But what I know is tomorrow evening an almost 13 year-old boy will call me and ask questions about what it all means and what I think. And I’ll have answers for him, but I won’t share everything I think, wonder or worry about.

A lot can happen in five years, but that is what I said when he was a just a baby playing with blocks 12 years ago.

September 11- Eight Years Later

Every year I try to come up with a poignant post that captures the feeling of the day for me. Most of the time I feel like I come up short.

This year I decided to just write a few words, link to some old posts and include perhaps a word or two. Of the posts I linked to below the two that really grab me are Eicha- One Last 9/11 Post and As The Bodies Fell- He Played.

I wrote As The Bodies Fell- He Played three years ago and in some ways it is the most significant 9-11 post I have written. The image of my son playing with his blocks while I watched people jump from the towers is seared into my memory.

I remember the feeling of pain and anger. I remember thinking about how many children were going to go to bed as an orphan, or if they were lucky with one less parent. And I remember hugging that little guy and wondering what sort of world he was going to grow up in.

This year decided to run it again.

Eicha- One Last 9/11 Post requires a bit of explanation. In general people associate Eicha with Tisha B’Av, which is a day of mourning within the Jewish calendar. On that day the Book of Lamentations (Eicha) is read. But in this context it actually refers to chanting. In general when Jews read from the Torah there is a style with which it is done.

We do it differently on Tisha B’Av. Eicha refers to that style. The audio post is of a man chanting the final messages of victims of 9-11 using the Eicha style. It is hard to hear.

Anyway, here is a link to some old posts from the past.

Eicha- One Last 9/11 Post 
September 11- The Memories Continue
As The Bodies Fell- He Played
We Remember
Football Saves Lives
911- Five Years Later An Angry Rant 
September 11 Musings 

 

As The Bodies Fell- He Played

(Originally posted here.) 
 

Not unlike so many others the fifth anniversary of September 11 has been weighing upon me. I have been mulling over my thoughts and feelings and trying to decide what to say. I feel the weight of the moment and it makes me uneasy.

I have waded through hundreds of thousands of words that others have written, listened to audio clips of the day and spent far too much time watching video. My goal is to share my thoughts with you and to do so with as much eloquence and dignity as I can muster.

I am a decent writer, but others are far better than I am so I will leave the longer essays in their capable hands. As for the video, well I think that this time around I’ll let others posts their tributes/comments/criticisms on their own sites.

If you are interested in that kind of thing you might want to click here.

It was a Tuesday morning. Here in LA it was like many other mornings but this time my routine was interrupted by a call from my employer. She let me know that there had been an attack and that the office was going to be closed.

When I turned on the television my jaw dropped. I sat there transfixed by the sight of the planes crashing into the towers and the eventual collapse. I was dumbstruck by it all. But what I remember most of all is rather simple.

As I sat on the couch trying to process it all my son played. He was ten months old and oblivious to the pictures of the carnage. He held colored blocks and studied them. He grabbed stuffed animals and hugged them. He took toy cars and banged them on the floor and all the while the television showed the bodies falling from the sky.

The bodies fell awkwardly through the air. Some were still and some moved every which way, as if they were desperately trying to learn how to fly.

The bodies fell and he continued to play. The bodies fell and I stared at him. He was oblivious to it all. I felt guilty and relieved. Guilty because I knew that the people I saw on television were important to someone. A wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a father, a son and or brother.

They were people, but from 3000 miles away they were like specks.

I remember picking up the big boy from the floor. He smiled at me and pulled on my hair. I smiled back and hugged him tightly. I held him in my arms and prayed that the war would end before he was old enough to be at risk.

And now five years later he is old enough to be quite aware of the world around him. We have worked hard to maintain his innocence so that he might be a child for as long as possible. In many ways we have succeeded, but I worry that come monday morning that might change.

I have other 911 stories about the people I knew in the city and the things that happened to them. I was pretty lucky. 911 cost me a lot of money, but that is nothing compared to others.

This summer I was forced to spend some time explaining war to him. This summer he lost a little bit more of his innocence. I am hopeful that Monday will not take more from him.

The picture below is a personal favorite of mine. To me it is a reminder of hope and a symbol that we may have had our nose bloodied but we were not broken. Right now there is a lot of acrimony and partisan bickering, but Osama and company better remember that there is no dispute here about finding them.

There is a long memory and G-d willing they will all be brought to justice. In the interim I offer my own hope and fervent desire that we see a speedy end to the various wars and conflicts and that the coming year is one of peace.

Eicha- One Last 9/11 Post

Rabbi Irwin Kula has taken some of the final recordings of 9-11 victims and set them to Eicha trope. I was surprised by how hard it was to listen.