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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Forever Changed, Forever the Same: What I Learned from 9/11

All my life (and for four years before my arrival) September 11th has been my parents’ anniversary. A day filled with pleasantries and remembrances, cakes and cards, mushy songs sung by Dad, and Mom’s weepy eyes. A day that marked another year of struggle and triumph. Another celebration of the love that steered our home as we grew up.

Then 2001 happened. September 11th became something totally different. I still dropped over to see my parents and deliver a card, but by the time I got there, the World Trade Center had been annihilated, the Pentagon had a gaping hole in it, and an airplane had dug a crater in Pennsylvania. It sounded strange—almost inappropriate—to say, “Happy Anniversary.”

My husband and I spent a lot of time that day and in the days to come taking calls from our grown children, letting them hear the comfort of parents’ voices. We told them that we loved them, and that everything would be all right in the end. We assured them that with God on our side, our country would prevail, and that we would just do what we had to do. It was important for all of us to have this dialogue, and we prayed to know that we were right.

September is also a big month for birthdays in our family. My dad, a son-in-law, a nephew and two grandsons pretty much have the month sewn up. We planned a big party and showered the birthday boys with good food, gifts and affection.
Somewhere in the ensuing lull, someone brought up “THE SUBJECT.” Of course we of the younger generations were all wondering what happens next and talking about how different this is than anything we’ve ever experienced. My mother sat beside my father and listened to us for while; then quietly and rather off-handedly, she said, “We’ve been through this before.” At that moment, a feeling of calm seemed to enter our hearts, and talk soon turned to other things. We had heard what we needed to hear.

My parents had been through Pearl Harbor and all that followed. They’d had brothers and in-laws and friends in foreign lands defending our freedom. They’d heard of neighbors killed and missing. They’d seen the country buckle down and do what had to be done, and do it again for Korea, and struggle through Viet Nam. Here was living proof that all our assurances were not wishful thinking. We would be all right, and we would be able to meet whatever challenge was placed before us.

Before that day, I knew many powerful reasons for families. I knew there was a reason to revere these people who so concretely link us to our ancestral past, and to world history. And on that September day, in one simple sentence, I learned one more.

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