I remember waking up on the morning of September 11, 2001, to learn that my country was under attack. It was our first day of classes for the new school year, and instead of getting a jump on the day, my daughters and I spent the first hour of the morning in shock, glued to our television and watching in horror as the events unfolded.
That part of my story is not surprising. I bet that most of America, even most of the world, shared that experience, the day we held our breaths in collective horror and watched the sky falling down.
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Those events were unfolding a long, long way from my home. There were rumors that the original plot called for strikes of terror to ripple across the entire country, from east to west, like a row of deadly dominoes. But once the decision was made to clear every plane from the skies, we West Coasters felt a certain relief that, for now, we had been spared the brunt of tragedy.
My daughters were old enough to know what was going on. I'm sure they were frightened, but I gave them a gentle version of the truth and did my best to explain the facts of what was then a very murky and confusing situation. I remember that they handled themselves calmly and we went about the business of our day fairly smoothly.
It was at bedtime that their fears finally caught up with them. We went through all the normal pre-sleeping routines, and I tucked each one into her bed. But somewhere along the line, one of them whispered, "Stay." So I laid down next to her. One by one, the others quietly came and joined us. No one talked or fussed - I don't think anyone even cried. We just lay together, scared and tired and wondering how to make sense of this day.
This part of my story isn't surprising either. I bet I was not the only parent providing some extra comfort to her children that evening, and many of us probably still wonder what damage was done to our young children's tender psyches on that day.
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What I remember next was this: I heard a sound, at once familiar but somehow disturbing. After thinking hard about what it might be, I realized it was a plane. We hear a lot of planes at our house, and normally, I don't even notice. But the sound of this plane put a dagger of fear into my heart. What about the no-fly order? Every inch of U.S. airspace is supposed to be empty! Why am I hearing the unmistakable sounds of a cruising jet engine?
I recollect the panic that rose up in me, and I could feel it spreading to my four exhausted daughters. I tried to force down the blinding fear as I wondered..could it be that one more plane has slipped through the net, and is coming to do us harm?
Just as my daughters began to stir and ask, What's that sound?, I realized what it was. Not a hijacked commercial flight heading to a West Coast target. It was a military plane. Patrolling the coast. Keeping us safe.
My first response was a rush of relief. I explained to my daughters that we were safe, and they soon fell off to sleep.
As I lay there, I remember a confusion of thoughts. Were we safe? Could anyone truly be safe from the madness of the morning's events? Would I ever truly feel safe again?
And while it may be that not everyone in America heard a military plane piercing the silence of the September 11 night skies, I don't think this part of my story is particularly unique. On this September 11, I find myself wondering again, Do I truly feel safe? My answer is, I don't know.
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Bless all those who fell on September 11, 2001, either as innocent victims of terror or as selfless servants who put others' lives before their own. May they rest in peace.
Bless those who lost a loved one on that day. Their grief must be enormous. May they find peace.
Bless, also, all of us whose sense of safety was stolen on that day. In order for this world to ever feel safe again, may we all do our best to make peace.
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Other thoughts on the anniversary of September 11: