Suffer the Little Children

I am pleased to share a guest post from my friend Mandi about her experience of the time she and her family spent at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.

Process Tragedy

I watched my 10-year-old and held my breath. We were standing in front of Ground Zero, the memorial for all those lost lives, where the names were engraved around that beautiful dark fountain. Above us, buildings rose up, construction was a constant sound, along with the not-too-distant traffic.

But inside the memorial park, it was like being in the eye of a hurricane. There was stillness and reverence.

And I had brought my ten-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter who seem to be fueled, most of the time, by equal parts adrenaline and chaos.

Process Tragedy

I had prepped them, of course. Ineptly, but I had prepped them. I talked about “bad guys” and airplanes and immense, nationwide sadness and fear.

Their questions were pointed:

“Did the bad guys get punished, Mama?”

“Of course, definitely,” I answered. But so did everyone else, I kept to myself.

“Did any kids die, Mama?”

“Yes, but they are in heaven now,” I said. And their families lived through hell, said the dark part of my soul.

There were so many things I didn’t tell them. I didn’t describe things that are etched into my brain, like how I came out of the shower that unforgettable morning, sat down on the edge of my bed in front of the TV news and didn’t move – other than to desperately dial friends’ numbers – the entire day. At 6 PM, I realized I was still wrapped in a towel.

I remember candles lining the sidewalks of the Los Angeles street where I lived, silent streets where stunned, lost people walked. Even the walking was strange – people don’t walk in L.A. But they did that day. Restaurants were quiet. Except in one, a man began singing “God Bless America” and people around the room joined in, in almost whispered tones.

You have your story, I’m sure. Full of strange disjointed details that don’t mean that much – and at the same time, mean everything.

I tried to distill things down for my kids in language that wouldn’t scare them, but would impart the seriousness of the day and the importance of the place. And as we approached the park, I was a little afraid, I’ll admit, that they would be silly, that they would come across as disrespectful, that they would be too loud or offend someone.

They approached the stone around the fountain where the names were engraved. They ran their fingers across the letters. They touched the water. My daughter began to loudly sound out the names. She was disappointed that I didn’t know any of those people.

Her brother turned to her. “Shhh!” he said. Then he laid his head down on the warm stone.

“What are you doing?” I asked him.

“Hugging them,” he said. And he rested his face against the names of the lost and closed his beautiful eyes.

Process Tragedy

Mandi Broadfoot is the homeschooling mom of two: a 10-year-old son with autism named Billy and a seven-year-old daughter named Willow.  She is also the Creative Director of Making Light Productions, a nonprofit dedicated to making the arts accessible to kids of all abilities, and you can find her blog posts here.

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