I’m not exactly patriotic, so if you are looking for a red-white-and-blue post about America vs. Everyone Else, this won’t scratch that itch. I was born overseas, and the 4th of July was a holiday for us mostly because my Dad liked to light firecrackers and those were available where we were. But I do tear up every time I hear the song “I’m Proud to be an American,” because I am. My nationality isn’t complicated, but my politics and worldview are. I am American, but first I’m a mother and friend and neighbor.
So, September 11th, 2001. I was a sophomore in college in Southern California, and a cross country runner. We gathered in a circle every morning at 5:45, prayed, went into the dorms to grab whichever teammate had missed their alarm, and ran. That morning, we were finished just before 7, and before almost everyone else was up. I was walking down a long hallway in the early morning quiet, past a men’s lounge with a tv on, and stopped to see what we have all seen in re-run form hundreds of times.: everyone’s worst travel nightmare, airplanes that fly into, rather than over, the tall buildings. I felt what you felt: confused, then stunned. Did that actually just happen in real life? And the lounges started to fill with people. No one went to class, we just had a collective camp-out in front of televisions across campus, looking over our shoulders every once in a while just to be sure no one was storming our campus and taking us hostage.
Maybe that last part isn’t exactly what people were thinking, but it began to dawn on me that everyone there had lost something. I don’t remember there being any personal connections to the humans who died that day in those buildings or airplanes , but something died in each one of my friends: security, and the feeling that no one could penetrate our great America’s defenses. Suddenly, with two buildings missing in a New York skyline, everything changed.
I was thinking about this today at a gathering of moms that happens every other Wednesday. Since it happened to be 9/11, introductions were our names, our kids’ ages, and where we were on this day 12 years ago. Not a single person had trouble coming up with their version of the story, and probably that would be true in any gathering around the country. Something big happened that day.
But I was also thinking about families, because one mom shared that someone she knew died in those towers. He was a poor kid, someone she had played baseball with growing up, and he was an only child. That day, his parents lost their only son. I felt like someone punched my stomach. Maybe it’s my maternal instinct, and maybe I just understood for the first time today what others all felt 12 years ago. I don’t care much about imaginary lines that make countries or what type or how many passports you have. But I do care about kids without their dad, dogs waiting all day for an owner who won’t be coming home, and parents who will never, ever forget, not ever, because it’s the day a skyscraper buried their child. That is something worth remembering.