I felt lucky that day.
I was a young mother. A part-time teacher. An enthusiastic volunteer at my son's elementary school. I was in charge of putting together the newsletter every month, and that day, September 11, the newsletter needed to be finished and dropped off at a copy place.
While I was settling in to work, a friend called and told me to turn on the TV.
I spent the next two hours watching, alone, stunned, terrified, as planes flew into buildings, as buildings fell. I watched the second tower fall and had the nauseating realization that I was witnessing, in real time, thousands of human beings die.
I turned off the TV and burst into tears.
And then I sat back down on the couch in my quiet house and finished working on the newsletter. I was crazed, obsessed with getting it done and I was running out of time before I'd have to pick up my daughter. With moments to spare, I printed it off and dashed off to her pre-school and stood in a quiet clump with the other stunned parents as our little girls and boys ran out of their classroom laughing and waving artwork.
Then I drove with my daughter to the copy place. As she chattered in the backseat, I kept looking at the sky. I was afraid that I'd see a plane. I was afraid I'd see a plane fall. I unbuckled her from her car seat and toted her into the copy machine place, suddenly uncertain.
Would the place even be open? Would there be anyone inside making copies? It seemed ridiculous to think so. How could any store be operating normally when our country was under attack?
But there was the clerk standing there behind the counter like it was any other day. "Are you still making copies?" I asked breathlessly.
"Um, yeah," she said.
I was both relieved and sad.
That night after my two kids were in bed, I crept into their bedrooms, one after the other. My seven year old son was asleep in his room surrounded by legos and computer games and books. My daughter was sucking her thumb, clutching her dolly.
I stood there in the dark bedrooms for a while. I knew that the world had changed and I knew my precious children didn't know it yet. It felt like a scary responsibility to be an adult, a parent, in charge of these two little people, wanting to protect them but terrified by the realization that maybe I couldn't. I wanted them to have one more night, though, feeling safe. I could at least give them that gift.
The next day my son went off to school and my daughter went to pre-school. I picked up the newsletter that was so insanely important to me at the time, and distributed it like it was any other Wednesday. In the days and weeks that followed, I did whatever it was that I did back then. Made meals and carpooled and volunteered and taught classes and read to my children at night.
Sometimes I would burst into tears.
My husband and I hung our American flag. Like other people in our country, we donated blood and dropped coffee and doughnuts off at firehouses. For a brief moment we felt a part of something hopeful and generous and good.
I want to believe that today too, on Wednesday, 11/9, that we can find this part of ourselves again, the part that wants to help and give.
Donate food to a homeless shelter. Take books to a community center. Give clothing to a battered woman's shelter. Send notes of solidarity to mosques and synagogues.
Hug our young children-- or our grown ones-- say a prayer that they will seek the good in each other, that they will lift each other up, embrace differences, and be better people, someday, than we are.