The Memory My Children Will Carry
In his bashful offering, I saw my little boy refashioning a deeply frightening event into a sacred moment
I was six when Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated. I have no memory of either event. This astounds me, given that my parents were heartbroken over their deaths. Yet to my knowledge, we had no memorial, made no special mention of either tragedy.
When the first astronauts walked on the moon, I was just a year older. My parents awakened me and my little sister to watch it unfold on television. I remember that night--and I'm grateful.
Of course, the moonwalk was a happy event, while the two assassinations were deeply shocking. What they share in common, however, is that all were sacred national events.
Now I have two little boys, ages 6 and 3. In the weeks since the terrorist attack on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, like a lot of parents, I've been carefully shielding them from ideas about chaos, pain, and destruction. Yet I'm also asking myself: What should they know? What should they not know? How can I explain this to them? What memory should they carry?
I wasn't prepared for this. Like most of us, I was in the midst of happy small tasks on that morning, at the moment our world changed.
I had just finished driving the boys to school, when I heard the radio newscaster say: "There's been an explosion at the World Trade Center." In a kind of trance, I drove to the top of a mountain in the town where I live, 17 miles from New York. I stood, stunned, with a dozen or so people and watched the smoke engulf the silver towers.
By the time I picked the boys up early that afternoon, their teachers were panicking, wondering whether I would arrive. Danny, 3, had already fielded questions from his teacher about whether his mommy had gone to New York that day and whether his daddy had been on an airplane. He answered yes to both questions-even though neither was true. (Either question could have been true on any given day, however.) Ben, 6, had seen parents pick up his classmates in a daze, or a panic.
On the way home, I made up something quickly: Bad guys had knocked down the World Trade Center. It would be OK, and we were all safe. A look crossed Ben's face. "Is that the twin towers?" he wondered. Yes. It was. "Jack's daddy works in the twin towers," he said.