Like every other American, I remember with crystal clarity where I was and what I was doing the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
My children were off school for a teacher in-service day. I had taken the dog to the vet for an 8:30 a.m. appointment, leaving behind a pajama-clad assembly in the den watching “SpongeBob SquarePants.” My plan was to rally my troops for a morning of chores, then reward them with an afternoon outing to enjoy what was shaping up to be a spectacular September day.
How quickly plans change.
When I walked into the house at about 9 a.m., my eldest daughter, Kate, met me at the door in a breathless panic. “A plane crashed into the World Trade Center!”
We rushed to the den to see the news coverage, only to watch in horror as the second plane slammed into the South Tower.
Immediately, we became concerned about a cousin whose apartment is a two-minute walk from the Trade Center. Gradually, as the terrifying events of the morning continued to unfold, I realized the safety of all of us was at risk, even those of us living in “the flyover.”
Life in America had changed right before our eyes.
By the time the South Tower collapsed, I realized the well-being of my children was not served by watching the live coverage on television. I knew I couldn’t really protect them from the reality of what was happening, but I also knew that at only 11, 9, 7 and 3 years old, they were too young to see such violent and disturbing images.
More than that, I needed to give them a way to respond — a way to take action and be empowered. As corny as it may sound in the retelling, I piled my kids into my van and took them to our church to pray.
If nothing else, I wanted them to learn that the faith we were trying to instill in their hearts was real and powerful and useful. “There’s nothing we can do right now but pray,” I said. “But that’s exactly what the victims and their families need most.”
That day and those that followed presented new challenges for parents like me. We struggled to reassure our children that they were safe, though we honestly weren’t sure if that was true.
We worked to protect our children’s innocence and optimism by shielding them from the barrage of news coverage that would only serve to stir anxiety and fear in their hearts.
We tackled tough questions about the presence of evil in our world, and about the motives of a man like Osama bin Laden and his hateful followers, while reminding our children that only God can judge the hearts of men.
And we helped our children to appreciate that the selflessness, courage, commitment and decency displayed on that fateful day was powerful enough to conquer the vile hatred that prompted the heroic responses of so many Americans.
As teachable moments go, 9/11 became a primer on virtue and values, liberty and love.
Now, at last, after 10 years of arrogant survival, bin Laden is dead and gone, thanks, once again, to the unimaginable courage and selflessness of a few of our countrymen.
Because of them, we’re revisiting those life lessons with our children as we recall the seminal event that marked their childhoods and the terrorist era that has become our unfortunate reality.
The message is still the same: Evil people may seek to spread hatred and suffering in this world, but ultimate victory belongs to the brave and the virtuous.
Indeed, when we’re doing what’s right, God blesses America.