Sunday evening, I drove the kids home with the windows down. It was cool only by a Texan's standards, but being desperate for Fall, I kept the air conditioner on to create an artificial chill. A new CD played music somehow melancholy and hopeful at the same time.
The setting sun, just beginning to dip below a canopy of oaks, threw a golden light on my children in the back seat. I watched them in the rearview mirror: Madeline's body turned toward the setting sun, her face held up to the light, her blond hair moving softly, then whipping suddenly. Connor, uncharacteristically, was quiet as well.
The moment was a wordless, passionate prayer. In my heart there welled up a sense of gratitude for the instant that can be neither manufactured nor captured, seasoned with the knowledge of how tentative the beauty of it is.
I started the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, like most mornings -- racing the clock to get out the newspaper by deadline. Then came news of planes and collapsing buildings and the horror. Before I could even begin to try and process it for myself, I had to grapple with the design and content of the most important front page of my relatively short journalistic career.
Madeline was 10 months old, and it wasn't until that evening, as I sat her in a bouncy chair on the floor and watched TV coverage, that it hit me. Seeing her there, helpless, innocent, dependent -- while above her ran images of people hurling themselves from burning towers -- I felt fear. Fear not for what all this meant for me or Roy, but for what it meant for my daughter and any children to follow.
I've swallowed that fear for the most part. I can't control events that big or the ones still to come, so I don't dwell on them. For that reason, I've avoided coverage of the 5th anniversary. Avoided stories and pictures, movies and TV specials.
My husband boarded a plane on a mission trip to Romania today. I didn't want him flying on 9/11, but neither of us made a fuss about it.
This evening I watched interviews with people whose loved ones were aboard United Flight 93. And I thought about what it would be like if Roy called me to say goodbye.
Earlier, Madeline had walked up to me as I sat watching a video montage of images from that day five years ago. The picture she saw was of an exhausted firefighter in the foreground, while behind him flames consumed a building half-hidden in smoke and debris.
"Oh, my gosh," she said. "Look at what that fire is doing to that building."
Before I could react, she turned away, offering with confidence: "It's probably a grass fire." Then she went back outside to play.
She is still that innocent little girl, dependent on her loved ones and now teachers to filter life for her. And I grieve, truly grieve for the day she understands it was not a grassfire.