Mom, where's daddy today?
He's with the Honor Guard at Pelco for the 9/11 memorial service. Today is 9/11, which is also known as Patriots Day. You are supposed to show your support by wearing red, white and blue to school today.
We pulled out of the gate, and the first thing the boys spied was the Humvee across the street in the high school parking lot, surrounded by men in uniform. 'What are those army guys doing there mom?' I began to explain Patriots Day, and the why of it all, when the radio station we generally listen to on the way to school began playing recordings from September 11th. Drama was pretty tuned in. His eyes grew round as he listened to the background noises of the second plane hitting. His jaw dropped a bit as he heard people describing what they saw, and heard the president speak of the tragedy. He was worried that it was still happening.
As I pulled up to the school this morning, Drama insisted on our morning prayer first, then he had a question. So, we prayed, as we do each morning, for open minds & hearts, courage & discernment, and protection. Then Drama pointed to the huge banner on the office and asked me why today is Patriots Day. What does that mean? Does it have to do with that stuff on the radio?
How to explain it? As a fire family, we've always lived with the danger inherent in the job of the people we hold so dear. We've been through our share of funerals, memorials & tributes for friends lost to duty, or who succumbed as a later result of their exposure to something during their service. For them, death usually means daddy dresses up in his Honor Guard dress, and walks in a parade. Sometimes with the flag, sometimes the axe. But always quiet, somber and serious. But, since they've not ever attended a funeral, it's been a much more abstract concept to these little men of mine, and now I knew I'd have to come up with an explanation that both satisfied their morbid curiosity (they are BOYS, and obsessed with all things war-like) and held actual FACT.
We had some time to sit in the parking lot before the bell. I found some decent (no cursing or overly graphic images) footage on YouTube for the boys to listen to and see (I think it was NBC News footage) while I attempted to make sense of it for them. I assured them that what they were seeing and hearing about is HISTORY. It's the history of our country, that happened while mommy, daddy and all of the adults in their world were alive, but before they were born. History happens every day. But this day,9/11/2001, this day happened in a way that we always assumed we were safe from, and so it's become more living history than anything else.
Stanky was worried about the people waving from the top of the tower – did they get out? No son, they couldn't. The plane crashed between them and the ground, and the fire kept them from leaving. Did they die? Yes. That weally sucks mom. Yes bubby, it does.
Piggy wondered 'why the flyuh man would cwash dat pwane? Did he get sick and die?" No baby. Men who wanted to hurt our people and our country got on those planes, and then fought the pilot and other people to take over the planes. Those men flew the planes into certain places that they knew would get lots of attention, even knowing that they would die. They did it to show that we, our country, wasn't prepared to handle a terrorist attack, they did it because they could, and they wanted to hurt people here. 'Well, how many pwanes cwashed? Did all those people die?' There were four planes, and yes, all those people died. Two planes flew into the buildings like we just saw on mommy's phone. One plane was supposed to crash into the White House, where our president lives, but the people on that plane, regular people like you and me, they fought those men, and the plane crashed in a field. Another plane crashed into a building we call the Pentagon, where lots of important military leaders work to keep our country safe.
Drama sat and absorbed what I had said. 'So, how many people died? A lot?' I don't remember the exact total number of people who died. I do know that 343 first responders died that day. Firefighters and police like daddy and his friends, whose job it is to keep us safe and help us when we need it. I was there, bubby, a month after it happened. And it was still horrible, even though the fires were mostly out and they had found everyone alive that they were going to find. The men and women down there where the buildings collapsed were looking for the people who did not get out, and for clues about why it all happened the way that it did. It was a very sad time, and also a very angry time, because so many innocent people were killed, for no reason that we could understand.
Then the bell rang, and the conversation was over. I'm sure the topic will come up at dinner tonight, and at some point we will take them all to Pelco to the memorial there. Even now, 12 years later, it's difficult to discuss. I'm sure there will be much coverage on radio & television tonight, and that Grumpasaur will be able to give a much better explanation than I did.
But the big takeaway here? What's really important? There are people in this country who are ready and willing to sacrifice their lives for others, no questions asked, no second thoughts. Selflessly giving, so that we can continue on, day by day, enjoying our lives of relative freedom. They are our patriots. Our firefighters, police, EMS and military men and women. And that guy down the street who saw a creeper following your kid and scared him off. The lady next door who happened to be home on a day your dad had a heart attack in the yard and saved his life. The kid at school who stood up for someone smaller, and kept a bully away. We are ALL patriots. Today we remember the ones who gave all, so that we can continue on in their honor and memory.