Friday, September 11, 2015

Mom, What's a Terrorist?

Last night, my 10-year-old daughter Brynn and I were on the computer together, and we started to see tribute posts about 9/11. I made a comment about how many years it had been since that day. She looked up at me in question, and I realized she knew nothing about it.

The first thing I said was that it was a terrorist attack.

“What’s a terrorist?”

That question threw me for a moment, because so many emotions hit me at once. I think part of me was surprised that she wasn’t familiar with it – but part of me was also happy that she didn’t, because it is a definite testament to how fortunate we are.

Surprise, pleasure, pride.

I was troubled, too; because by telling her I would be sticking a pin in that bubble of innocence, the one that is part of the carefree childhood we all look back fondly on, those days we realize we can never get back. I debated not telling her.

Then, I considered how she might find out from someone else. Would that person speak in anger or in fear? Would another’s telling her color her perceptions? Make her afraid?

I decided to talk to her about it. I wanted it coming from me.

Sadness, resolve.

My ‘story’ about that day is a little difficult, but not nearly as bad as so many others’.  I’d already written about it a couple of times. The last time I wrote about it was in 2013, because I found myself on a plane that September 11th . Coincidentally, that was only a few months after the Marathon Bombing and this blog that I started a week later, writing about that day.

I told her what happened, without anger and without fear. I showed her pictures.

At one point she mentioned the Marathon Bombing. We were at my best friend Donna’s house that day when we heard about it and rushed inside to watch the news. My daughter and my friend’s daughter were both 7 at the time, and Donna and I were careful how we spoke in front of the girls. Brynn said that she and Faith were a little freaked out when they heard the word ‘bombing’ – which explains why they never heard the word ‘terrorist’; they couldn’t get beyond the word they knew that scared them.

The way Brynn talked about that day was the way we all talk about a big event. “I remember exactly where I was when this happened.” That made me a little sad, too, that she has one of those moments in her life.

I also told her about how it changed people. How nice people began to treat each other. I told her what it was like to live in Boston and not hear planes flying overhead, and how I stopped my car at the intersection of North Washington and Causeway and got out in the middle of the street to stare up at the sky that first time I saw a plane overhead again.

I told her about how different it is to fly now. How I recently noticed that I actually filter myself, watching how I joke and what I say, when I’m at an airport. I don’t do that anywhere; not even around her.

I told her about my brother, who was in a plane when it happened, flying home from his Army base to attend my wedding, and we didn’t know where he was for hours. What that must have done to our mother.  How cut off everyone’s cell phones were. That that was why Bobby was with the first group of soldiers in Afghanistan when war was officially declared.

I talked about my wedding to her father, just 10 days later, that we almost postponed. About how the florist had called me to nervously tell me that I wouldn’t have the flowers I chose at the wedding, because all of her deliveries were behind. The florist was nervous because the bridezilla she spoke to before me gave her hell because she wouldn’t have the orchids she wanted. Brynn’s reaction to that tidbit was surprise at someone else’s lack of compassion, and I was happy to see that.

I told her that we were the only American couple at the resort we chose for our honeymoon in St. Lucia. And how the entire dinner crowd at the Couple’s Night reacted when the emcee came over to our table, asking us where we were from. As soon as we said, “Boston,” the room erupted in applause. It made me uncomfortable to take such a tribute that was meant for so many more deserving people; but I understood it. All these people that were so far away from what happened, giving support in the only way they could.

She saw the pictures of the tributes from other countries.

I showed her pictures of the towers. She recognized them from television shows. I showed her the videos of the South Tower falling, letting her hear the surprised reaction from everyone around, because no one expected them to fall.

I talked about the people who died, those who were on the plane and in the areas of the crashes. The bravery of the passengers of Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania. The firemen and police. The everyday people who sent or brought supplies to the people who were tirelessly searching for survivors. And those who helped to just … search.

We had a nation of heroes, doing whatever could be done.

And I told her about the courage that people showed after that. To rebuild. To continue living after losing loved ones. To carry on, one day at a time. We lost lives, loved ones, jobs, businesses, emotional freedom, and innocence. But we were united.

Now, fourteen years later, we are separate once again, quibbling over our differences. We talk about 9/11 still in anger and fear.

I could not tell my daughter about any of this in a way that would make her angry or afraid. Fear is limiting, and anger, while it has a useful place, is dangerous if continued too long.

In the book, “Ask and it is Given,” Abraham-Hicks has a description of what they call an “Emotional Guidance Scale.” Much like the 7 stages of grief, it labels emotions on a scale of 1-best to 21-worst, with love being the best and fear/despair being the worst.

This scale is a help for those who are trying to work their way out of negative feelings. Identify where you are, and try to work your way up. Anger is number 17. It’s a great motivator initially, and definitely better than despair, but hanging on that rung too long becomes destructive.

I choose love. I am not always there, not by a long shot, but I do aspire to it. I believe that we can do better, be better, by being more loving towards one another. I dislike the idea of ‘fighting’ for anything. I try to follow the adage, “Promote what you love, instead of bashing what you hate.” (I also like George Carlin’s “Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity.”)

This does not mean I condone anything. It does not mean I’ve forgotten anything. But I can control how I act, now, and now is what matters. Now is what sets up later.

I will not teach my daughter to live in anger or fear – that would discredit all of those brave people who picked up the pieces and continued to live. I try to teach her compassion and love.

I never forget. I never forgot. I remember September 11, 2001 with sadness. I think about all of the people - those who died, and those who lived, those who fought, and those who waited at home. And the rest of us.

I talked to her about what life was like before and after that day, the changes, big and little, since then. I even told her that I choose to refer to terrorists as bullies, because I believe in the power of words. Their emotional reaction can be desensitized or built up, and that can make a difference in the power they hold over people.

My daughter can choose what she believes and how she feels; and she will, like we all do. But I will not teach her that the world is a terrible place, and to start her at the low end of the scale would do just that.

But what I choose to focus on is the comfort, support, unity and love that came out of it.

Life is about all of it. Good and bad. This and  that. We will never have one without the other. Never. Because it is the good the highlights the bad, and vice versa. This means that you have a choice of what you will focus on.


My thoughts are with everyone today.