Follow by Email

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Re: 9/11 -- What Will You Tell Your Daughter?

Nothing like big anniversaries and having a child to make you stop and ponder things you haven’t for some time, and would prefer not to consider.

Why did 9/11 happen? What does it mean? How did it change the world? How did it change me?

I don’t like to talk about it. I don’t like to think about it. My parents started asking me a couple nights ago about being in DC when it happened. I cut them short. I try to act like it didn’t affect me.  For one thing, I feel like being in DC wasn’t the same as being in NYC. I don’t feel like I really was there, in a way. When people say “I was there,” they mean NYC.  For another, I did not lose anyone in the attacks or the ensuing wars. I consider myself lucky on both counts, and I want to state at the outset my sincere sympathy for those who have suffered greater loss. In no way do I intend to diminish their grief with my philosophical pondering.

With the approach of the 10th anniversary, a panicked voice got increasingly shrill in my head: “What will you tell your daughter?”

I suppose I will tell her about my day on 9/11/01 and the following weeks & months:

I’d started a new job just a week earlier, after about a year on the Hill. It was a really small office, just the boss, me & 2 others. I remember one of them calling out from his office that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. It sounded like a really bad joke. But it wasn’t a joke; it was just really bad. We found a TV and started watching the news. We stayed inside the office building, just a few blocks from the White House, not sure what we should do. Finally, sometime before lunch, we decided we should close the office for the day. I remember my boss driving me home to my apartment. We could see the smoke from the Pentagon, and I remember being scared but feeling like it was over.  I sat at home with my cat and watched CNN. I talked on the phone with my Senate friends, who were mostly together at one girl’s house on the other side of town from me. I missed them. I wanted to go over there, but thought getting on the Metro seemed mildly nuts. I talked to my family and wondered whether I should have left Nebraska at all. Later, I did go out & go to Safeway or something lame – just to get away from the TV for a spell. That evening I got together with my friend Jane who lived nearer by. Honestly, I cannot remember what we did. Maybe she can tell me. I remember walking to work past tanks at least through December.

I don’t know whether I’ll tell her one of my early thoughts:

“I wish Al Gore was president.” By no means, did it take 9/11 for me to think that. I had worked on the Gore campaign and been a fervent supporter. I loved the man. As the post-9/11 rhetoric began to take its turn, I wondered what Gore would have done differently. I still wonder.

I don’t know whether I’ll tell her the awful truth:

I stopped believing that I, or anyone else, could bring about big changes in the world. It didn’t happen instantly on 9/11. It took months, if not years.

In my inaugural blog post, I wrote that I used to want to change the world in some big flashy way, and now I’m content to impact those close to me in a positive way. I wrote that I do small things to try to make my life and their lives a little better. And, by doing so, to make the world a slightly better place.

In a way, I believe that is how you make the world a better place. The whole “pay it forward” notion. Good little deeds to one, passed on to the next. A smile, a kind word, ad infinitum. But even as I wrote it, I realized it might come off as a little – well – small.

But the voice is still asking: “What will you tell your daughter?”

My husband & I talked this morning. He suggested, and I agree, that we present her with the full gamut of information on what actually happened. But what will I tell her about how it made me feel? Will I tell her that the event & its aftermath made me numb? Will I tell her that I used to believe I could make the world a better place and that I’m sorry I quit trying? Will I even be able to answer myself on how I actually do feel?

I want the very best for my daughter, especially emotionally. I want her to be open to new experiences and unafraid. How can I teach that if I’m afraid to feel my own feelings when something is difficult?

My daughter is only 1 and a half. I would think I have a few years to figure this all out. Maybe I can’t make the world a better place, but does that mean I shouldn’t try? If only for her sake?

Well, I told her all that this evening while putting her to bed. I stroked her head and told her how much I love her & how sorry I am. I know she didn’t understand. I thought it would be good practice for the day she does ask me: “Where were you? What did you do afterward?”

I think she knew something was up this morning, when I bawled while reading her The Fox & The Hound. The rest of the day was just a normal Sunday for her. And, yes, until I can figure out what I want to do about the big bad world, I will remain perfectly content to make our little world a safe, healthy & happy one for my daughter.


  1. I was all worked up about what to tell our kids this morning (my son is 6), then when my husband mentioned something to him he says, "Oh, yeah. I already know about that. We talked about it at school. There were planes that crashed into buildings, but everything is okay now." I wasn't even sure what to say after that.

  2. I would be torn between relief that I didn't have to explain and wailing "but everything is NOT okay!!!!"

  3. I don't know what I'll tell Lily when she's older. I remember the day clearly, since on 9/10 Adam flew down to Atlanta for a job interview and came back that night. We were packing up the condo to move on 9/11. I remember crying a lot and being generally paranoid to be in a large city!