Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Reflecting on 9/11 after 20 years September 10, 2021

A drawing by my then young son of “something to remember” for a grade school assignment: A plane crashing into the World Trade Center. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo.

TWENTY YEARS. TWO DECADES. Two hundred and forty months.

Whatever words are attached to the time that has passed since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, the reality of that day in our nation’s history remains forever imprinted upon our collective memories.

On the campus of Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, a plaque honors an alumna who died on 9/11. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo.

That day changed us. It changed how we view each other and the world. The acts of those terrorists not only claimed lives, but our sense of security. Our sense of peace. And much more.

I remember well that September morning, how my then seven-year-old son and his friend Sam reacted to scenes unfolding on our television set. My husband had phoned me from work, alerting me to the attacks. I switched on the TV. And the boys saw it all, right alongside me. Perhaps I should have been a responsible mother/caregiver and turned off the television. But I didn’t.

I reconstructed a tower using the same blocks my son and his friend used on September 11, 2001, to duplicate what they saw on television. These are also the same airplanes they flew into the tower. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2001.

Soon Caleb and Sam were building twin towers with wooden blocks and flying toy airplanes into the skyscrapers. It was heart-breaking to watch. Both reality unfolding on the screen and then the re-enactment on my living room floor.

For a Minnesota mom geographically far-removed from the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania, none of this seemed distant. I felt the collective fear. I felt the collective pain. I felt the collective grief.

A memorial at the Faribault Fire Department honoring those who died on 9/11. The department will host a commemoration this Saturday, September 11, beginning at 7:46 am. That includes a welcome by the fire chief, a flag presentation, ringing of the bell and a brief eulogy. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo.

Today I remember, 20 years later, those who died. The families left without loved ones. The heroes. And those two little boys who saw, yet didn’t fully-understand, the events unfolding far from Minnesota. Yet too close.

Here’s a poem I wrote shortly after September 11, 2001:

September 11, 2001

You clutch your silver toy jetliners

then blast them into the twin towers,

blocks scattering across the floor.

Like that show on TV,

you tell me,

where the planes crashed

into those two tall buildings.


Somehow I must tell you

that this was no show on TV,

but real people

in real buildings.

Moms and Dads

with little boys just like you,

boys who build towers and fly toy airplanes.


How do I begin to show you the truth

behind a scene so terrifying

that it keeps replaying in my mind?

Hollywood could have written the script,

the latest disaster film, grossing millions

for an industry embedded in itself.

You’re right; this could be a show on TV.


Except this is very real,

so real that I want you to believe

those were just pretend buildings, pretend airplanes.

But you see the worry in my eyes,

hear the sadness in my voice.

You know the truth,

even before I tell you.


My son, only seven years old,

too young to fully understand

the evil that has invaded the world,

the fear that grips the American heart, my heart,

the sense of security forever lost.

Like so many blocks scattered across the floor,

we must pick up the pieces and rebuild, peace by peace.


Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


13 Responses to “Reflecting on 9/11 after 20 years”

  1. Audrey, this is an amazing piece! Heart wrenching and beautiful all at the same time. I love it. ❤

  2. Great post Audrey. I was a block away just after the towers were struck, I wanted to help, but was turned away. I was two streets away when they started to collapse and I ran as far as I could. No one knew how they would fall. If they would topple over, and if so, in which direction. The strangest thing I saw was in Columbus Park in Chinatown. In the lower end of the park, the FBI, police set up as a command post. In the north end of the park, the elderly played cards and checkers as if it was another day. Oblivious to what was going on around them. I witnessed way too much that day ….. no one in the country was untouched in some way by this tragedy.

    • Keith, thank you for sharing your harrowing experience and insights as someone who was there. A block away, and then two, are too close. I have no doubt that you witnessed way too much on 9/11. I appreciate your sharing the observation of the elderly who went about their day just like any other day, oblivious to what had just occurred. This is part of the story, too. Thank you for sharing that. Peace to you, especially tomorrow.

  3. Valerie Says:

    Thank you for this post. Your poem is special.

  4. Sandra Says:

    Your poem is meaningful, also liked your son’s picture from I think 2009. Looked back at older posts to see how you reflected. 2001 I was a year away from retiring, so at work. Daughters were launched. Oldest was supposed to be in a business meeting in the WTC, got moved to Chicago last minute. I’ve received my blessing. Meeting wasn’t interrupted. Flights were grounded. She needed to not be there, swears rented the last car in town to drive here, said the drive actually helped calm her. We hugged hard. Stayed over, then drove to CO, experiencing the shock effects cross country. Denver takes everything in its stride. Actually, I thought the cities did well considering loss of a favorite, brave son. I just thought nothing could be as bad as JFK’s assassination. And then we had the long months of WTC cleanup and grief and consequences that still exist in all the victim’s and emergency people’s children. I’m thankful for you to be a wordsmith to help those of us that don’t have the gift. In grief we turn to art, music and culture. And then there’s next year 21.

    • Sandra, what a close call with your daughter who was supposed to be at a meeting in the WTC on 9/11. I agree, it’s a blessing that she wasn’t there. I cannot imagine how you all felt about that close call. Thank you for sharing your personal story of this day. It seems we all have stories. I hope you read the comment by Keith, a wonderful photographer from New York City. He was a block away from the towers when the planes hit.

      • Sandra Says:

        It was a big meeting that wasn’t interrupted, first thing. Second when she was on the road, everyone honked a lot. When she arrived here and then her CO apt to hug her cats she finally cried in relief and grief. We had 3M business people in NY that day, some had a visual and an experience there is no emotional prep for. Some wouldn’t talk at all. One co-worker felt guilty he didn’t stick around to help. Grief and horror obviously affect us differently. Nothing brave about me, for sure.

      • This is really interesting, to read of these connections to 9/11. Emotions ranging from fear to relief to guilt and more…all fit. Thank you for sharing these stories.

  5. We all remember exactly where we were on that day. Such a moment in our history. Thank you for sharing.

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