Sunday, September 11, 2011

The End of Innocence

Somewhere back there in the dust, that same small town in each of us. I need to remember this. So, baby give me just one kiss. And let me take a long last look, before we say goodbye. Just lay your head back on the ground. And let your hair fall all around me. Offer up your best defense. This is end of the innocence. ~ Don Henley and Bruce Hornsby "The End of Innocence

September 11, 2001 began as a beautiful day. The sun was shining. The leaves on our large Maple tree were just beginning to turn. We could see the brilliant yellows and reds outside our kitchen window. I was still homeschooling my children, who were 9 and not quite 7 years old respectively. We were curled up on the couch in our family room, reading "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe". Josh and Caroline begged me to postpone their math lessons to just allow for one more chapter. "Aslan is on the move, Mom! We can't stop now!", they said. I realize that those two sets of beautiful brown eyes were both serious in their earnest request for more reading. I also knew it was partly a ploy to postpone multiplication tables. I was okay with that.

The phone rang just after 9:00 am. It was my friend, and fellow homeschool mother, Jennifer asking if I had the television on. Jen wasn't any more likely to be watching TV on a school day than I was. We took our jobs as homeschool teachers seriously. But, I heard the tone in her voice, and still couldn't comprehend what she was telling me. How in the world could a plane have crashed into one of the Twin Towers? It was with horror that the children and I watched the events unfold. What we thought must surely have been a terrible accident initially, clearly took on much larger meaning for the entire world.

It was the end of innocence for our nation, I've heard it said. No longer were terrorist attacks limited to unfathomable bombs going off in Israel or India. Our oceans to the west and east couldn't protect us with their natural barrier. We were no longer the citizens of a country who had to travel to foreign lands to protect ourselves. We needed protection here at home. Europe bears the scars of war from within the last 60 years. So does most of Asia. We had now joined the unwanted society of countries at war.

Because I'm not a politician, or journalist, or in the military, I can't speak for a world perspective. I didn't see the carnage first hand. I didn't lose a loved one or a colleague on September 11th. But, as a mother, I know what our family lost: its innocence. Until that time, my family flew several times a year with ease. My biggest concern was having enough items in my carry on bag to entertain Josh and Caroline for our trips. My only fear was that we'd run out of things to do and someone would melt down in public. After September 11th, our trips changed in tone. My children saw me pulled out of line and searched almost every time we flew. I explained that it was for all of our safety that folks were searched randomly. "Is it so that we don't hit a big building, too?", my daughter asked the first time this happened, "Don't they know you're a Mommy?". I tried to think about how to illustrate the concepts of fairness, equity and impartiality. It was hard to do when my children just wanted to go visit their Nana, and were afraid to fly.

As it turns out September 11, 2001 was an end of innocence for our family in other aspects that had nothing to do with the terrible events of that day. This was, ultimately, the last year I would homeschool the children. They both went on to doing extremely well in school. They loved their peers and were successful in their classes. They gained independence by leaps and bounds every year. I am exceptionally proud of both of them for their diligence and leadership, both in the classroom and outside of it. But, I still missed the sweet quality our days together had once had. It was the last year before I was diagnosed with cancer the first time. My life was never the same after my first cancer digagnosis. I would find myself revisiting this chapter time and again. I would come to the understanding that no matter how well I take of my body, it can betray me with illness. My husband was working in a job he loved, with people he admired, during this time. Although his career would take another decade to end, I look back on 2001 as the time in which my husband was working in a capacity he most enjoyed. 

Obviously, things haven't been all bad since that September 11th. We've continued to travel, to grow, to learn, to laugh, to cry and to explore. We have had outstanding years and utterly dreadful ones. We have known profound joy. We have experienced deep sorrow. Ten years is a long time, but it's also the blink of an eye. I am thankful for every day I've had since the terrible tragedy occurred. If nothing else, the terrorist attacks taught me to appreciate life all the more, to hold my children a little closer, to hug my husband every day before he leaves for work, to call my mom and tell her how much I love her.

Back on the homeschool couch, on September 11th, I used the remote to turn the TV off. I pulled a blanket over Josh, Caroline and me, and we read another chapter from the Chronicles of Narnia. Then, we read the chapter after that. And on, and on, until we finished the book. We may have skipped math that day, but I believe that time spent reading was vital. After all, Aslan was on the move.