Monday, September 11, 2006

Innocence unwinding

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.

Until tonight.

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.



Big Mama said...

Beautiful post, Toni.

Addie said...

I tried to watch that United 93 special last night, but the girls were all around me and I kept crying. My 6 year old kept looking at me for explanation. I could only say, "One day you'll understand. One day you'll learn what happend to these people." And yes, that made me very sad, that one day she would understand.

Barb said...

On the one hand, we want to protect them from knowing the harsh reality of the world they live in. On the other hand, we can't keep it from them because they need to know in order to protect themselves someday.

I know exactly how you feel. Even though my daughters were away at college in 2001, it broke my heart that they had to see what our world has really come to. No mother wants to see her children lose even a tiny part of the security they feel. There are just some things beyond our control.

As always, a beautiful post, Toni.

Sarah's In the Midst of It said...

I didn't watch a single thing about it this year. Our year has been difficult enough that anymore emotional distress might send me off the edge. Caiden did ask me today why the flags were at half mast, and I tried to explain as blandly as possible. You're right--the day will come, sooner than we wish, when our babies figure it out. It's a heart-heavy thing, raising children, isn't it?

BooMama said...

I thought about the same thing this year as I saw footage from the WTC again - what it would be like to be on the phone with my husband if he called to tell me goodbye in those circumstances. I can't even go there. Can't do it.

Phyllis R. said...


This past Sunday, Sept. 10, we unfurled our flag and had it at-the-ready for the 11th. We were showing the world (well, our little 'hood) that we remembered. I couldn't wait to drive down the streets of Austin on Monday and see all the red, white and blue. But you know what? We were just about the only ones flying the flag. I was so surprised.

Remember the first few days after the attacks? Flags seemed to be flying from every front porch, car antenna, bike basket, you name it. It was very touching, and I was so proud of our collective solidarity. This year's anniversary made me see that we DO move on. Moving on IS a good thing, I realize, but it made me a little sad to see that so few people seemed to be thinking of displaying that same support as before.

Linda said...

This is so beautifully written. I wish for all of us that we could be as your little girl and so completely trust in our Heavenly Father that we are not afraid at all. I've had something happen this year that has literally brought me to that place. Trust Him or just die beneath the weight of the fear of the thing. When I finally learned to trust, there was such peace it took me completely by surprise. It shouldn't have. It's what He promised. But that's the way we are, and He understands and calms our fears.

Tammy said...

So poigant and beautiful...

I felt the same fear...with my 2 year old and newly pregant again, I had not only immediate fear for my family but that fear of the future...the world they were now in or coming into. But though it took me awhile, it was only by reminding myself that God was in control ultimately...He created everything and I just had to trust Him.

I loved the poetic nature of this writing and the honesty of the feelings so many of us share.

Janice (5 Minutes for Mom) said...

beautiful. i am choking on my tears.

here from Bev's...