Today, my son and I were reading some facebook posts together that were written by family members who were right in the midst of chaos that day. The first was our cousin's husband who was working in building two. He was talking about the fire ball, his long walk down the stairs, and the falling debris. I realized the picture being painted was one that "thirteen" was old enough to grasp. There was also a picture, from better days, taken from the sixty-ninth floor of building two. That gave even more perspective than I could've possibly provided. He almost reluctantly tried to connect the dots of what stairs who had been walking down.
My aunt also had a post to honor and remember a friend and four of my uncle's probes...he has since retired as an FDNY Captain. I realized that even if my boy remembered being told that our uncle was there, he hadn't been given much other information to incorporate that into. I went and got the old New York Times Magazine that had an article in it featuring a firefighter who our uncle helped rescue. I suggested that my son read the story if he wanted to know more about that day. I realized that there was still nothing else in my own catalog of stored knowledge to share.
I also noticed that I was feeling slightly shaky with tears in my eyes, as if this was the first time I was hearing the tale. I remember my father being so collected and calm on the phone that day, as he updated me on the whereabouts of our family members in the city. Each person had found safety. The relief I felt was so quickly invaded by anguish at the thought of the thousands not receiving good news...or unable to get any news at all.
Last year, another one of our cousins went to Iraq as a Marine. We read his posts about helping children, villages, stopping smugglers, and rescuing a donkey from a hole. That pretty much was the extent of war stories in our home. I realize that there was additional talk at school, on the bus or out in public in general. However, we stayed away from letting the media educate them.
I am not terribly interested in trying to characterize the "enemy" for our children. I don't want to taint their view of an entire people at the same kitchen table we try to teach tolerance. I want them to grow to focus more on this day to remember the heroes, and all of the different ways we can define them, and to know that so many people overcame fear to help each other.