On the Fourth of July, we walked along the Hudson, stopped at a playground, and then we made our way to One World Trade Center. It's still "Freedom Tower" in my mind, even though I've been corrected; but names aren't really the important part. Iris had a lot of questions about where we were and why the mood was somber and awed at the same time and how come there were little flags stuck in the wall.
And while I thought about how to convey the meaning of the place to my three-year-old while sparing her the gore and terror that she just doesn't need to know yet, I remembered being 17 and sitting in science class when Mr. Hawkins burst through the door. He turned on a television in the corner and we saw the news tape ticker across the bottom of unbelievable footage and were granted the knowledge of what was happening without maybe really understanding. Eventually, the headmaster decided against students watching the news unfold. It was for parents to reveal to their children as they saw fit, he determined; which, as a parent now, I guess I understand. I remember knowing that my dad was stuck in Italy, thankfully, instead of on a plane bound for the States. I remember so desperately wanting to feel about the whole thing, but instead my feelings were stuck. Probably, I just couldn't fathom it.
As all this struck me and my eyes scanned the names lining those fountain walls, as I also recalled everything I've read and learned since, I was overwhelmed with a sort of sadness, but also with gratitude. Then I knew what to say to her. I pointed to a fireman and his truck parked out on the street and I said, "This is where men and women like that fireman were very, very brave. This is where people put others first and helped everyone and became heroes. All of the names here are those people who need to be remembered because they were so, so brave and loved. This is a very special place." She nodded her head as if she understood that a response didn't require words.
I wiped the corner of my eye and cleared my throat and held my hand over my heart because finally, all these years later, my feelings weren't stuck. I'm glad that the release wasn't fear or anger, but instead an overflow of appreciation and pride and thankfulness for all the men and women who demonstrated selflessness and pure human love even in the face of danger. I'm glad I could be there to experience that in person and to remember.