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.
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.
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.
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