I’ve always found holidays that honor our military a bit difficult. While I understand in principle the sacrifices these men and women make within (and sometimes with) their lives, I can never really commiserate and mourn in a way that those with real-life experiences do.
One of the most defining moments of my generation was the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. I remember distinctly watching the images of the smoking and collapsing towers on the television screen, and then looking over at my beautiful five month old son sleeping in his baby swing. What kind of a world would this peaceful infant grow up in? What would be the ramifications of living in a place where wars were no longer limited to border disputes and political power struggles? I felt a sadness inside of me for humanity, one that would be repeated two years later as I gazed at the gaping hole in New York where the once mighty towers had stood. The sounds of the city had returned, but the sadness over the lost lives, and the amount of hatred required to cause them, never really left.
A few years later, I read the story “The Man who Walked between the Towers” to my 2nd son. The children’s book chronicles the amazing feat of Philippe Petit walking on a tightrope between the WTC towers. The last page of the book makes note of the fact that the towers are no longer there, prompting my son to ask me why. I found myself tearing up as I tried to boil the years of war, anger, politics and religion down into a concise package that a three year old would be able to understand. When I finished, he simply responded: “That was a sad day.”
Try as I may have through the years, no explanation of 9/11 to my children has been able to communicate what it felt like to watch the news reports, to hear my work intercom system announce that the Pentagon had also been attacked, and that all commercial air travel was being suspended. Nothing I say can truly convey the horror of seeing the replay of the impact and collapse over and over, nor the fear for the people stranded on the upper floors of the buildings, nor the empty feeling when visiting the blank Internet page where the WTC webcam used to be. My children know that it was a terrible thing, but they’ll never know it like I do.
This Memorial Day, I am the child. I am the one so far removed from foreign wars and dangerous conflict that I only understand in theory, not in practice, the sadness that this day represents. I am the one who cannot comprehend the weight of a world at war. To those of you who know people who’ve given their lives to protect my innocence and ignorance, and to those whose family members have made the ultimate sacrifice, I only have this to offer:
That was a sad day.