Seven Years Ago

by Jeff Abbott on September 11, 2008

Seven years ago today, I got up to start my morning’s writing. My wife was getting our oldest off to preschool and our youngest was just a few days old. I didn’t normally turn on the TV in the mornings (one word: hectic). We were slipping back in the normality of our lives, getting adjusted to having two kids, grappling with that no-sleep marathon that a newborn brings. And I was dealing with the failing health of my older brother Danny–we knew that we’d be spending a lot of time driving to Dallas that month as Danny’s life began to fade. The doctors told us he might not have long–a few days, a few weeks. So I turned on the Today Show, just to perk myself a bit more awake than the coffee would, to check in on what was going on in the wider world since I’d been deep in the cocoon of caring for family.
Then the planes hit.
I don’t really have the words to express the horror I felt–the horror that any of us felt. It was as though the universe shifted, and you knew in that moment you’d entered a life-altering territory defined by “before” and “after”. Much of the day is seared in memory; much of the day seems a blur.
But I do remember thinking: What kind of world have we brought this child into? I held my youngest, only a few days old, and thought: what have we done? It was a strange, weird thought: we had done nothing in retrospect except embrace life, to bring more love into the world by having another child. But I–and other parents who had kids close to 9/11 have told me the same–felt like we’d let our kids down, brought them into a place where people in our midst could plan and carry out the slaughter of thousands of innocents. I felt I didn’t recognize the world any more. It was a world that felt, frankly, defined by fear and shock. At the same time, I remember people being much kinder to each other than usual–even here in Texas, where politeness is an art form. I remember being kinder as well–more patient, less worried about the little thorns of life that can spur anger. It was as though we were trying to salve the national wound.
It was a month that started with the greatest of joys, but was marred by unimaginable tragedy. 9/11 came, and then a few days later my brother died. I felt swallowed by sadness. I kept thinking “What is this world going to be like now?”
Seven years. Our boys have grown into funny, bright, creative kids. They are still young and they don’t fret much about the wider dangers of the world. Their monsters are still the sort that might lurk in closets or under beds. They have never asked me about 9/11. They do ask about their Uncle Danny now and then, as they do about other loved ones who have passed on. (Being brothers, the boys find it disquieting to know that a brother can be lost.) They know that the lines at the airport are to check everyone to make sure “bad guys” don’t get on a plane. I think, in some ways, they might be just like the kids who grew up before 9/11.
But they’re not in the that before world. They never will be. They are going to grow up in a world where we have to fight an enemy that strikes from shadows, that does not surrender but continues to multiply, that imagines a world for our kids vastly different than the world they know. Instead of asking “what have we done” by bringing them into this world, now we ask “how can we prepare them?” Because in my shock long-ago, I asked the wrong question. Instead of asking, “What is this world going to be?” I needed to ask, “How do we make this world better?”
Because our enemy does not get to define our world. We do. We make the choices about how we live, how we respond to dangers, how we work amongst ourselves and with the rest of the world to minimize the threat to free societies.
And all we can do for the generation born right before and after the towers fell is raise them to be strong, and intelligent, and discerning, to learn from our successes and from our mistakes. To teach them to be aware, but not to be afraid.
That’s all that any of us can do. I wish you all peace and hope today.

    { 2 comments… read them below or add one }

    J. J. Hebert September 11, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    Jeff,
    This was a great post. Thank you very much for sharing.
    best,
    JJ

    Stacey Williams September 14, 2008 at 11:55 am

    On 9/11/01, I watched the second plane hit live on the Today show as I sat in the State of Texas insurance waiting room. Matt and I had just found out we were going to have our second child. Our three year old son and I were not covered under the church’s insurance in Arlington so I had to apply for state coverage. Suddenly, everything was changed. What would the world be like 7-8 months down the road when our child, a daughter, came into the world? I certainly relate to your feelings of that day then and especially now, seven years later, when Matt has died unexpectedly and I have four children to raise on my own. All any of us can do when faced with an uncertain future either on a national level, or on a very personal level, is be strong and do the best we can for our children to make the world a better place, to make their lives secure, to make their childhoods happy and safe. Life is scary. Together, we can face the future.

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