I hadn’t planned to write anything related to 9/11, partly because I didn’t have anything in particular to say, and partly because I feel like there’s been SO much out there about it — maybe a little too much, I think — that I didn’t feel the need to share anything.
I’ve also never said anything to the girls about it, because they’re so young. They still don’t even get the whole death / dying concept.Today, Elsa told me the dream she had last night: “Humpty Dumpty ate a bad pancake and it made him dead so he was crying and then a friendly lion came along and helped and made him better.” Although that’s probably not the best example of her not understanding death because 1.) It was a dream and 2.) Humpty Dumpty has always been a death-defying sort of guy.
But this morning I ended up, totally unexpectedly, mentioning 9/11 to the girls. It happened because Elsa was complaining because she didn’t want to go to church. We go to a Unitarian Universalist church which, like many UU churches, doesn’t really have many services over the summer, and starts again in earnest with the school year. So, this was the first Sunday back, and we wanted to go anyway, but wanted in particular to go as a way to acknowledge and reflect on 9/11.
I told Elsa that it was the first Sunday back, and so Daddy and I would like to go and see everybody, and they could see their friends, and it wasn’t a choice and yada yada yada. When she pressed, I decided, well, what the hell.
I told her it was also an important day for our country, because ten years ago today something very bad happened — some bad people flew some airplanes into buildings and a lot of people died, and it made everyone very sad. So today was a day when people took some time to think about it and remember the people who died, and their families, and try to understand, and try to be thankful for what we have, and hope that something like that never happens again. And the minister at church and maybe other people would talk about it, and there might be some songs or prayers or something about it.
Elsa stared fixedly at me the whole time, looking a little dazed. Clio kept fiddling with the building toys they’d both been playing with.
“So that’s why mommy and daddy want to go to church, and why all of us are going there today, OK? Do you understand?”
Clio just asked me to help her un-stick two little pieces of their building set that were stuck together.
Elsa said, “I think we’re too little to talk about it,” and also returned to the building toys.
I said, “Oh no, you don’t have to. You guys will just come into the service for the beginning, remember? And then you can go to the toy room downstairs while we’re up in the sanctuary at the service.”
“No,” she said, after a pause. “I mean I think we’re a little too little for you to be talking to us about it.”
“Oh,” I said. “Does it upset you?”
“No,” she said, now also returning to fiddle with the building toys. “But I just think we’re too little.”
“Yeah, I think we’re too little to understand.”
“OK,” I said. “I’m sorry. I won’t talk about it anymore.”
So I didn’t.
Maybe I made a mistake. I did upset and confuse Elsa a little, it sounds like. But I respect her for saying what she did. And maybe she was right. Maybe she was too little to understand.
Then, I’m 37, and I still don’t understand how human beings can be so awful to other human beings. Ten years later, that day still feels surreal.
Eventually, the girls will have to learn about what happened, and try to understand. And try to reconcile the awfulness of 9/11 and other horrific things that happen in the world with all the happiness and joy that’s also part of life.
I envy the innocence and simplicity of their present existence. And I hate to have to be the one to usher them, even ever-so-gently and gradually, out of it.
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Photo: Wally Gobetz