I’ve opened my iPad to write on the plane home from London and noticed the time and date at the top. It is, today, 15 years after the horrific terrorist attack on American soil that happened just a few weeks after our son was born. I remember waking up that morning after a long night up with our baby and my husband rushing in to tell me about the first plane. We turned on the news, and saw the second plane hit the second tower. We saw it for what it was, immediately. And then we watched the towers fall.
It was hard to imagine, for the first few weeks, that things could ever be the same, or ever good.
I remember the first time I flew after 9/11. It was only a few weeks afterward; my husband and I had booked a flight to Denver for our family before our son was born. We wanted to take him and our small daughter, then 3-1/2 years old, to visit friends in the town where we met before I had to return to work from maternity leave. I had been so excited to be able to go and introduce our kids to our dear friends, but after the terrorist attacks, I was never more afraid in my life to step on a plane. The day before we were to leave, Al Qaeda had threatened to take down more planes. That night I was crying to my sister, saying I didn’t want to go, what were we doing putting in our kids in harm’s way? She told me I should do what I feel, don’t go if I don’t want to, but think about whether we want the terrorists to win, to keep us forever scared and unable to have fun, and be free.
When the cab came to pick us up, the cab driver was of middle eastern descent and came with an associate, and again, I was afraid. Yes, I knew then and now that it was completely unfair to tar these men, just trying to make a living, with the sins of people who were probably not even their countrymen or their religion, and what even if they were? The cab driver almost certainly brought a friend because he himself was afraid, afraid of people like me who might harm him out of fear. We loaded ourselves and our kids into cab and went to the airport.
At the airport, security was tight. We had never seen anything like it. Our infant son had his diaper wanded for metal. My husband was pulled out of line for a random, thorough check, and we were required to wait with him. Finally we boarded the plane, the last ones on, a lone family among a sea of seasoned business travelers. I remember walking past this guy who turned to his associate, “Look at these poor, dumb people, traveling with their kids.” That put a smirk on my face and some spine in my back. If they could justify the feeling of risking their lives for work, I could certainly justify risking my life, for life.
This morning we are headed back to Chicago, where that same infant son, the one who had sported the dangerous diaper 15 years ago is playing his viola in church, participating in a service of healing. We will miss it this time.
We will never forget what happened or what humans are capable of. Our lives in some ways have become defined by it, the body checks at the Emirates, the security lines at Heathrow, our liquids In a separate Baggie for check. All of these things a reaction to the evil that humans are capable of.
And while it is true that things can never be the same, things have been plenty good since then. People surprise us with evil, but so much more often we are blessed with the beauty, tolerance, patience of human love, both simple and complex. We implement safety measures because we do not give up, or give in.
On this plane, there are people of every religion, race, all genders (who knew that could be an “all”?). They have been visiting in London or are coming to visit the US. They have been to football matches, listened to music, seen art…or they are going to. They have been at leisure or at work. They have been with family, either to enjoy or to be together during tragedy….or are going to be.
On this plane, there are things we all have just done because of the terrorists. There are things some of us do in spite of the terrorists.
But mostly, there are things we all do without regard to the terrorists.
A mom and her tiny child are sitting near me in the plane. I hear the baby squealing as they play. In front of me, a man is snoring loudly, completely at peace. American Airlines just gave me a cup of Beckleberry’s chocolate ice cream, and I ate it.
We will be home in four hours.