Introducing a Child of 2001 to History on the 9/11 Anniversary

Posted on September 12, 2011

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James Nachtwey's 9/11

Last night I watched the CBS documentary by Jules and Gedeon Naudet, and James Hanlon, “9/11: 10 YEARS LATER,” and I was not alone. In addition to my husband, 10-year-0ld Danny was also on the couch with me.

Like our American tragedy, Danny was born in 2001, and he was nearly seven months old on 9/11. My husband and I were both at work at 8:46 a.m. when the north tower of the  World Trade Center was hit, and Danny was in daycare with a lovely woman he called Lala, who was no doubt as far off al Qaeda’s radar as a person can be. Regardless, I still ranted to my husband that while on his way home from his newspaper job late that morning (a bomb scare forced the evacuation of his office–fun!)  he had to first pick up Danny and bring him home. Our son simply had to be with one of us.

Brian refused to watch any of the news coverage that day in front of Danny, and we didn’t watch that night until he fell asleep. I’m not sure he could have comprehended any of what we saw on TV that September day–I barely could–but we were taking no chances.

Last night, however, a decade later and his cognitive abilities no doubt much further advanced, that documentary put him front and center on that horrific day–showing the only footage of the first plane striking the World Trade Center, footage from inside the north tower as the south one collapsed, and the first images of the dead among the rubble. Although we had, earlier that week, read a book aimed at helping kids understand 9/11–who were the terrorists, what is Islam, etc.– as we sat together, I still asked myself if I was doing the right thing by letting him watch.

We have never been the parents who hide anything from our child (guess what, 7-year-old Danny–your dad has cancer!) believing it is far too hard to remember lies and that our child deserves to be treated as we wish to be treated–with respect. And there is so much more to this tragedy–in the negative and positive. It let us talk philosophically about hate and adversity. It let us recognize the senseless nature of tragedy. It let us talk about what is a hero–not someone who hits 50 home runs or can throw a Hail Mary touchdown pass, but rather airplane passengers who will give their lives to save so many others, and first responders who never ask “should I,” but  just do.

It let us talk about why getting on a plane is such an ordeal, and how and why that changed from my childhood days when your family walked you to the gate and you could carry on a whole bottle of shampoo.

It let us talk about how communication has changed and how Twitter, Facebook, texting, video phones–all of social media–will forever change how we see, learn about and perceive future defining moments like this.

It let us talk about how much to treasure those we love, and how life can change in an instant, in a heart beat, in a single airplane flight.

Last night, as I tucked Danny into bed, we put aside our 9/11 book and went instead for the “Mysterious Benedict Society,” deciding we needed a little fun and fiction to cushion the stark reality of the day 10 years past. There will be of plenty of time to continue our reflection. Neither of us will ever forget.

Nachtwey 9/11--South Tower Falls

The images are still horrifying to view, but no one takes pictures like James Nachtwey. I won’t say, “enjoy” this slide show but you will be moved.

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Posted in: General, Journalism