By Gregory Keer
This month, we mark the 10th year since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when innocent Americans died in New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Since that time, my oldest son has become a teenager while two of my children have been born into this world in which fear and hatred too often diminish the beauty human beings can and often do show.
As a way to commemorate 9/11, I wanted to look back on what was going through my own mind as a parent the day after the terrible events, to gain perspective. I hope this piece will encourage you to think as well and perhaps to discuss with your children ways to feel more secure in a too often uncertain society.
My son was born on the same day, in the same hospital, as his friend Ethan.
Our families had become friends during our mutual first pregnancies. After the birth of the boys, we saw each other at least once a week, went to parent-and-me classes together, and talked all the time. If it were possible to marry another family, we would have married the Ansorges. But not long ago, our friends moved to Manhattan when Mark’s job was transferred.
On September 11, the distance became greater. That morning, little Ethan walked with his mommy to preschool and watched a plane slice into the World Trade Center. Ethan and Deborah struggled to get home in the ensuing pandemonium that convulsed New York City.
All the while Ethan asked, “Mommy, why did the plane crash into that building?”
No physical harm came to Ethan and, soon after witnessing the horrific tragedy, he was home, cuddling with his parents who cherished their very existence.
Ethan and his parents’ experience clarifies one simple thing amidst the human devastation and unending confusion brought on by that day’s events: We are still better at loving than we are at destroying.
Don’t get me wrong. I am angry, perplexed, and cynical about much of the way our world works. I am scraped raw, emotionally, when I think of that father on the flight that crashed in a Pennsylvania field. This is the man who called his wife and told her he would fight the terrorists before they did greater harm. This is the man who urged his wife and child to have a good life.
As much as this story weakens me, it also fortifies my belief that love prevails in the face of any disaster. We build on love, for love of each other. We are better at building than destroying.
And, as simplistic as it sounds, the concept of family is perhaps the greatest structure on which to build on love’s foundation. I know I might sound flower-childish or naïve. But I am struggling to be positive and state the obvious: We are a family of human beings. Like family members, we often treat each other brutally — but not as much as we treat each other lovingly.
The metaphorical, if not literal, powers of family reach everywhere. I feel that most of the sentiments expressed by world leaders and residents of other lands were heartfelt. They recognize the pain of wives who have lost husbands, of children who have lost parents. They have lost, too.
Within our own community, parents are talking with their children to ease their worries. One parent was dealing with a four-year-old son who was inquiring about the “evil tourists” (meaning terrorists) while trying to help another son who was shell shocked by the tragedy.
Another parent has a daughter who asked, “Were there any mommies or daddies in the buildings” of the World Trade Center. At the same time, these parents are giving blood and talking with each other to soothe fears.
Repeatedly, we prove ourselves to be better at bonding than at disintegrating. We may be more motivated at this time, but most of us act on our desires to respect and understand. We are also teaching our children these values.
My wife and I put our son in a multicultural day care. He has befriended kids with of an amazing array of cultural backgrounds, from West Indian to Palestinian. He sometimes blatantly states differences he has with others: “Why is Nicholas brown?” or “Why is that girl talking Spanish?” We are embarrassed at first, then we watch him hugging and giggling with these young people.
At our foundation, we are a family. No terrorists can crack the foundation because it is made of stronger stuff than metal, concrete, or even flesh and blood. It is made of love. And so we continue to build.