The Stories of My Parent’s Generation
Growing up there were times when my parents’ stories weren’t always of the mischief they would get into as kids or how different their youth was from my own. They also told me stories of escaping their bombed home to come to America during WWII, or of their memory of when President JFK was shot.
I remember listening just as intently to their stories of tragedy as I did to their stories of joyful times. I absorbed their care of how they articulated their experiences. I came to understand them as pieces of our truth — a world that contains both good and evil and yet can sustain.
My children aren’t yet at the age where they sit intently on my lap and listen. I’m lucky to get through a touch and explore book without one of my girls trying to eat the pages… But I know that there will be a day when they might ask about 9/11. Or they might see a piece of the evil side of our world and not be able to understand why or how one copes and moves forward.
And when that day comes, I want to be prepared to speak my story as eloquently and as peace-centered as my parents spoke to me. And to do that, I first need to hear it.
I was sitting with about 500 other freshman college students in a 101 class at the University of Kansas. Suddenly an assistant came from the outside of the auditorium, approached the professor and within minutes the professor stopped what she was doing. She turned off the projector and told us that classes were cancelled for the day due to a national emergency.
I met my roommate in our dorm room and we held hands as we watched the news on our tiny TV. As I tried to wrap my head around the images I was seeing, my heart was with my roommate’s boyfriend, now husband and daddy, who was in the army. I watched the twin towers of the World Trade Center burn and collapse and I knew that our country would be going to war.
This was not my first experience of terrorism. The Oklahoma City bombing will also be a tragic day that I will never forget. But this was my first experience, as for many Americans, with such devastating attacks on our soil. Four planes, three targets, two towers, one war on terror.
New York City
Mid October was our fall break where we got an extended weekend from classes. A couple buddies and myself decided to drive 23 hours straight to Manhattan to visit a mutual friend that was living in NYC to attend a film and television school. The drive alone is a story and I have many fantastic memories of fromt that epic trip, but what will always be seared into my memory is the smoldering rubble from the World Trade Center and the 10 surrounding buildings. It had been more than a month and the site was still on fire and people were still missing.
I came to know the day more intimately 11 years later when my girls’ dad and I moved to the border of Queens in 2012 before they were born. Our new neighbors, coworkers and friends’ shared their experience with us on the anniversary or during a vulnerable allowance.
I heard stories of friends and family that they had lost that day, of a husband that was supposed to go to work at the towers that day, but didn’t for serendipitous reasons and a mother that was unable to get home to her children that night because the trains were all closed. Stories of such pain, heartache and fear. So many souls were lost, so many heroes and yet there was always a sense of hope.
New York City is resilient because of its people. They are strong, tenacious and loving. By 2006 the One World Trade Center, or Freedom Tower, broke ground and today is the tallest skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere.
I got to be in New York when they hoisted the finishing antenna atop in 2013; it was a proud moment. On days that I got to work in Manhattan, I could see the tower in my horizon down 6th Avenue on my walk from Penn Station to headquarters. The sun would glisten off its windows and I would cry, even in the middle of a busy crosswalk. Sometimes something tragic can become beautiful.
Different, Yet United
After returning to our Midwestern roots when we moved to Colorado, I found myself longing for the understanding of a New Yorker, especially on this tragic date. Truthfully, it wasn’t hard to find native New Yorkers here. We were the transplants and at times stuck out as such. A little withered and needing water from all of the trauma of moving, but could quickly grow strong roots.
My time in New York taught me much, but I’ll never forget when I realized how different we related to a day that didn’t just change our country, but the world.
It makes sense that our experiences were different. For New Yorkers the 9/11 attacks were in their backyard. The backyard of more than eight million neighbors. That’s a significant impact.
Imagine not being able to reach your loved ones on the phone for days and not knowing if they were alive. Imagine your neighbors knocking on your door for weeks asking if you had seen their missing child. Imagine riots and hate crimes for months from and against your past schoolmates. Imagine it being years later and the actual streets you walk on are a memorial to those that you lost.
You just can’t compare that to my own experience of watching destruction on a television and then hoping that those that were sent off to war would return. It’s just different. But it doesn’t mean that we’re not more alike than we think.
For My Daughters,
I guess what I want you to hear, my loves, is to listen. Listen to yourself, hear your heart on the matter, but also take every opportunity to hear others’ stories too. You cannot compare one’s pain to another, but you can help heal hearts when you give space for them to talk about their hurt, fear and, at times, even hate. Our differences make us stronger, they help us grow and it is through that growth that even the darkest of events can become light.