The morning sky had panache; turquoise blue with sunbeam highlights. Eamon and I walked to first grade at an ordinary pace chatting about whatever was flowing through his six-year-old mind. He went to class and I went home to clean a pile of breakfast dishes and listen to confusing reports about a plane hitting a Manhattan skyscraper. My friend in a New York cafe heard that it was a helicopter. A reporter said a pilot lost his way. We were all playing an absurd collective game of telephone.
You know the rest of the day’s story. Crash, fire, smoke, collapse, death. By the time I picked up Eamon in the afternoon I was transformed into a new mother of the terrorist age struggling to find the words to explain something I had no language for. The next day the children in school built skyscrapers out of Legos and then knocked them down. Eamon told his classmates that the people in the planes had escaped. “My parents told me.” We did say that some people survived including my husband’s coworkers in a subsidiary firm, all of whom hurried outside after the fires started. Eamon’s grey eyes got wet when I corrected his optimistic view, but no tears fell. He did not ask anymore questions and quietly walked away to do something, but I cannot remember what.
Across town that morning a teacher was telling Rachel, my middle school daughter, not to worry, everything would be all right. She was not concerned until she heard his frantic attempts to calm his own anxiety. Her disaster prototype was Columbine - gun toting enraged boys and locker bombs - not Middle Eastern terrorists flying planes into buildings. Rachel did not have the benefit of magical thinking. There were no moments of solace in the belief that the people in the plane were alive.
The anniversary of 9/11/01 has come and gone. My memories persist but I managed to avoid most of the media replay of agony and carnage. Dave, on the other hand, tuned in all week. “Our politicians could learn a lesson from firefighters,” he said as he scooped granola into a yogurt container. “If they showed up at a fire and argued about the best way to fight the fire the house would burn down. Elected officials need to stop trying to get their own way and work together before we all burn.” He is right, but like Eamon I try to find a glimmer of optimism even when things are looking pretty bleak. Action works, such as doing a deep energy retrofit. I do not want to overstate the significance of our family’s attempt to shift away from carbon based fuels, a small gesture in light of the intricate web of geopolitical forces mucking around with our days. However, it is one way to show Eamon and Rachel, siblings of a generation reared amid the twin towers of uncertainty and suicide bombings, that they can make meaningful choices that might entice our fearful leaders to lead.