What My Son Taught Me About 9/11
I've taken my son Brody to the NYS Museum in Albany at least half-a-dozen times. Sometimes, I avoid the 9/11 exhibit or pass through it quickly because my son (who turned 4 in July) wants to see animals and funky minerals and dinosaur bones; the fun stuff. He doesn't want to see his daddy tear up while gazing at the twisted metal and shrapnel that were once steel beams holding up the Twin Towers or the charred firetruck that New York's bravest raced in trying and save people inside Tower 1.
But on a couple of occasions, I have walked through the transfixing 9/11 memorial exhibit with my son and tried to explain to him what happened to this country 14 years before he was born. As I'm sure you know, it's not easy.
Brody loves the American Flag; he has a few in his bedroom and points them out every time he sees one on someone's front porch or waving in front of a building. Over the years, he's come to somewhat understand the importance of flag, respecting the one his Grammy and Papa gave him that hangs in his bedroom.
Brody's also been to enough baseball games and sporting events to know that during the National Anthem we stand and face the flag, put our hand over our heart, remove our caps and are respectfully silent. While the concept of freedom, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (and everything else our Flag represents) doesn't quite resonate with him (and how could it?) he knows the American Flag is paramount.
While Brody and I walked through the NYS Museum, he sensed that I was somewhat somber while taking in the 9/11 exhibit. Trying my best to explain to him what we were looking at, I told him that 'mean people flew airplanes into big tall strong buildings' and even showed him a few of the burning buildings. Together, we looked at what was left of firetrucks and even saw a piece of an airplane mangled and unrecognizable. Sadly, I told him that many brave men and women, firefighters, police, EMT's and all the kinds of people that protect us at their jobs got really hurt that day.
He couldn't comprehend why or how something like that could happen. "Why did mean people fly airplanes into those tall buildings, Daddy?" Brody innocently asked.
I didn't know what to say. For a brief moment I wondered if this was just too much for a little boy to experience and that I erred in my decision to show it him. But I wanted to answer his question. I'm the one that brought him here and this is what dad's do. The best I could come up with was, "Brody, mean people were trying to hurt us because they don't like us and they don't like our American flag".
Brody stared off into space while thinking about my answer and didn't say anything else. He was looking at the covers of daily newspapers dated 9.12.2001. His innocent and curious little boy eyes were fixated on the photos of the burning towers. I think he was out of questions. And I know I was out of answers.
I thought about all people forced to call their loved ones to tell them they were on a hijacked plane. I thought about the people trapped in burning buildings, the sheer panic and fear they must have experienced. I thought about all the firefighters who braved scorching heat climbing up stairs to try and save people. Imminent danger before them, they had a job to do and they kept climbing; searching. I thought about the EMT's, police officers, nurses and doctors and good citizens who did anything they could to keep people calm, safe, and alive. I thought about the parents who lost their children that day and the children who would grow up parent-less. It's just so damn much, all because, they don't like our American Flag.
The reality is, there is no way to explain 9/11 and why it happened to an adult, let alone a child.
Fighting back some tears, and without words, I grabbed his little hand while we walked to another exhibit and enjoyed a few lighter moments together before we wrapped up out visit.
On the ride home, Brody was his usual chatty self. "Daddy look!" he shouted as he pointed to the side of the road. "There's an American Flag! The bad guys didn't get that one!"
Looking back and smiling at my clever, smart, compassionate, feisty, sharp, little man I said, "No, they didn't buddy...no they didn't".