My daughter was born on September 11.
My father died on September 11, from terminal cancer.
9/11, and 32 miles from NYC, the air was rank for days after the towers fell. I worked in those towers in my early twenties, as a waitress at Windows on the World. It was my first waitressing job. Some of the kitchen staff I had worked with died on the day of the attacks.
I was driving to teach at Stony Brook University when I heard about the planes flying into the Trade Towers. The news was on NPR and I heard it on my commute to work. Stunned, I arrived on campus, went to my class; my very shell-shocked students all wanted to go home and contact loved ones. I dismissed the class and told them to be careful. I then drove back home to my family.
It was my daughter's 4th birthday. We didn't know what to say to her--we had the TV on briefly, but didn't want to scare and scar her, so we turned off the news and said, "Some buildings in New York City are on fire." That's all she knew for years.
Her preschool was at a Jewish temple, and her class met in the afternoon. I had made cupcakes to take to the class to celebrate her birth. There were few cars on the street and when we arrived at the temple, we saw a number of police guarding the parking lot. They anticipated attacks at synagogues (which seems odd to think of now).
Her teacher met us at the door and said, "Say nothing. These are babies. They don't need to know what just happened. They cannot possibly understand." What a strange birthday it was; I felt removed from the celebrations; the little ones didn't seem to notice.
But this is our world today. Violence, terrorism, school shootings. As a parent I feel this inner division--the desire to pretend everything is safe and 'normal' and the terrible knowledge that nothing is normal. There have been so many violent incidents and scares throughout my daughter's childhood--weeks and weeks of black outs, two major hurricanes, multiple local terrorist attacks, and on and on.
There has always been some shame for us on this birthday. Wanting to celebrate; she was a miracle post-cancer chemo baby for me; yet knowing others are suffering. Wanting to honor my child. Wanting to respect others. Wanting to honor those who grieve.
I still remember the stench in the air from 9/11, 32 miles from NYC.