Run to the grocery store this week and buy the Feb. 25, 2002, issue of People magazine. The cover photo is a special, double-paged layout that you must see.
No, it's not a Victoria's Secret model shoot. No, it's not the cast of "Friends" or "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."
It's a group picture of mothers and babies -- 31 widows of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the 32 infant sons and daughters their fathers will never hold. There are lean babies. Chubby babies. Smilers. Criers. Snoozers. A bubbly set of twins. All of them dressed in white. All of them born into this world without the fathers who had happily anticipated their arrival -- until alien terrorists invaded our skies and took daddy after daddy after daddy away.
People magazine brought the women and their children together last month for interviews and photos in New York City, where they "quickly formed a confederacy of mourning and support." Holli Silver, 38, of New Rochelle, N.Y., mother of Rachel, 3, and 5-month-old Danielle, explained: "We don't have to ask 'How are you?' because we all know how we're doing. We all know what we went through." During what should be the happiest time in their lives, these new young mothers are grieving in private, wearing their husbands' pajamas, and taking bittersweet solace in beautiful children who have their daddies' laugh, hair, hands and toes.
People identified at least 50 women who have given birth to children whose fathers perished in the Sept. 11 attacks. The first was 8-lb., 10.5-oz. Farqad Chowdhury, born on Sept. 13 in Queens. As of Feb. 12, the most recent was 5-lb., 12-oz. Robin Ornedo, born Jan. 31 in Los Angeles. "They are Irish, Italian, African-American, Latino, Christian, Jewish and Muslim," the magazine reports. "And their parents hail not just from New York and Washington but also from Boston, Arizona, Toronto and even Sligo, Ireland."
This is exactly what we need right now. At a time when the bloody shock of terrorism has faded from the media's radar screen, this story -- and this cover photo filled with the babies of murdered fathers -- provide jolting reminders of why we are at war. And why we must not sink back into a pre-Sept. 11 mindset of triviality and self-indulgence.
Osama bin Laden is a distant memory, yesterday's news. Figure-skating scandals, sex courses at the University of California at Berkeley and campaign finance reform-posturing dominate the headlines this week. But out of the spotlight, young mothers are still grappling with the raw horror caused by al Qaeda's uncaptured mastermind. Courtney Acquaviva, 31, of Glen Rock, N.J., mother of 3-year-old Sarah and 8-week-old Paul, told People about a recent breakfast conversation with her daughter: "'Is Daddy still dying?' How do you answer that?" Acquaviva explained to the toddler: "Daddy couldn't come home. A lot of daddies couldn't come home. But they love us still."
When told that her father is "in the stars," Fahina Chowdhury, 6, asked her mom for binoculars. "I want to see my dad," she said. Four-year-old Donald McIntyre Jr., son of a Port Authority police officer who died at the World Trade Center, comforts his newborn baby sister when she cries: "Do you miss your daddy?" his mother says Donald Jr. asks the baby. "Then he'll tell her, 'I do. I cry too.'"
This magazine cover photo and story will shake you not only because of who's featured in it, but also because of who does not appear. It brings to my mind the forgotten husbands who lost pregnant wives during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. And the children who lost parents. And the parents who lost only children. And the entire families whose lives were erased by homicidal maniacs masquerading as religious warriors. And all the widows and children of past al Qaeda terrorist attacks that faded long ago from public memory.
Lest we forget: We are at war. Evil remains on the loose. Children are still crying themselves to sleep. Things are not yet back to "normal." And they won't be for a long time to come.