Ten years ago, this morning, I passed through the World Trade Center on my way to work. My shift started at 7 a.m., and I changed trains there every day to reach my office in Jersey City. Being in the news business, my coworkers and I got word of the attacks immediately. I phoned my wife at work in Upper Manhattan and told her to turn on the news. Before I knew it, my building was evacuated with the instructions “Go West!”
We didn’t have cell phones, so I called my parents in Virginia and she reached hers in Atlanta, and they got word to Lovely and me that we each were okay. I’ll never forget how incredibly blue the sky was that day – primary election day and the first day of school. I had left the windows up in our Brooklyn apartment, and I worried I would find our dog and cat covered in ash.
When we started dating, people asked when we were getting married. Then at the wedding in 1998, people asked when we were going to have children. In 10 years, we told them, just to shut them up.
September 11th changed that.
What were we waiting for?
On September 11, 2002, my Lovely Bride and I had left the country. The pain and memory were too fresh and intense, and we wanted nothing more than to loll about for two weeks in our Happy Place, the South of France. So we did.
We had intended the trip as the “Conception Tour.” I was hoping it would take a lot of practice to make a baby. We didn’t know, however, that my Lovely Bride was pregnant before we left. Eddie’s first cells were built out of mussels, red wine and coffee. Whoops.
Now in 2011, my wife and I were desperate to get out of the house after a week of rain, and I wanted to avoid coverage of 9/11. We found ourselves out for a late afternoon hike at Oregon Ridge Park outside Baltimore, and we noticed a couple of things. There were a number of planes flying eerily low, which happened for weeks after 9/11. We finally have kids old enough to do fun, spontaneous outings with. And hiking was exactly what we were doing in France a year after 9/11. Looking back, we realized she was so tired that day because she was newly pregnant with Eddie!
This year, we debated how much to tell the children about September 11. Previously, we shut out nearly all news of it. This year being a big anniversary, however, we decided our 8-year-old could handle most of it. Just no pictures of the people who jumped. Our 5-year-old had been asking questions she could hardly put words to, making me think she doesn’t understand much about what was going on. But she can understand that bad people slammed planes into incredibly tall buildings, which made lots of people die when they fell down.
We want our children to know about this event that their parents lived through.
That changed us. And changed our country and our world. Hurtful history, but family history.
This morning, all four of us watched the memorial on TV, and my wife covered their eyes at parts of ABC’s rebroadcast of its coverage 10 years ago. I don’t think Eddie needs to see a 110-story building being vaporized. Neither do I. Horrible as it was, it was comforting seeing all those surviving family members read the names of those who died. The Brooklyn Youth Choir singing “America the Beautiful” sent me over the edge, though.
Later for church, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to wear an I Love New York t-shirt and grab a bullhorn and tell people all about it – or if I wanted just to hide. I took offense 10 years ago when people called it an attack on America. I felt like it was an attack on my city. Maybe now because I don’t live there anymore, I realize the nation’s outreach to all New Yorkers was genuine and deserved. When the first church song today was “How Great Is Our God,” I just lost it. I squeezed Eddie to me and wrapped my arm around my Lovely Bride and reached for Carla. This is why I’m here. Maybe not to win a Pulitzer, but for this woman. And these children of ours.
It irritated me at first that all of Baltimore was thinking today only of football, and the Ravens’ home opener against rival Pittsburgh. But walking out of church, I welcomed the distraction. I spent the day remembering. I spent the day honoring the living, too, by going on with life. And so did the whole family.
I fixed quesadillas for lunch. Eddie played the Wii. Carla made “Seven-Grape Juice” (??!!?!) and lost a tooth as the Ravens pounded the Steelers. I jumped up and cheered at her gap-toothed grin. I pestered my son about unloading the dishwasher and keeping his elbows off the table. I fixed my rain water barrel and watched Carla and a friend give new life to my sister’s 70s-era Barbie Dream House with a psychedelic paint job. Lovely Bride painted a desk. Then she and I actually fixed supper together, which we don’t get the chance to do much these days. And after supper, I threw the football with Eddie in the alley. He actually asked if I would.
I told the kids at dinner tonight that I sobbed because I was sad for all the people who died, but also because I realized I have so much to live for. The Twin Towers were really big, and the awful things that happened that day were even bigger, but God is even bigger than all that. And he loves my children and me and Lovely and all the people who died and even the highjackers.
“What’s a highjacker?” Carla asked.
“The people who crashed the planes into those buildings. On purpose,” I said.
“Do you love the highjackers?” Eddie asked.
“No, but I guess I should try. But God does, and that’s because he’s God, and I’m not.”
I really miss New York today.