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.
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.
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.
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.
Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many. My pronouns are she/her/hers.
Doreen McGettigan says
What a sweet little guy, his hug may me teary. It is a difficult time to try to put into words for children. They are so perceptive of our tone when we tell stories even if we are trying not to have one.
Paula Kiger says
I simply am floored by the simplicity and deeply moving nature of his action. Thank you for commenting.
Thank you for such a beautiful reflection. I like how you prepped your children but didn’t go over their heads. Some day I hope to visit the memorial site.
Paula Kiger says
Thank you for your visit and comment, Kelli. I think Mandi did a fantastic job with prepping her kids and helping them navigate the actual visit. Do go to the site if you ever can. It’s beyond words in the care that has been taken to create a reverent and informative and respectful space.
In a way, I am thankful my son was old enough to understand because I would have found it hard to try to explain and handle my own shock and grief,as someone who grew up in New York City and still had family and friends there. I couldn’t bring myself to go to Ground Zero until 11 months later. This was a beautiful story. I will go to the memorial one day.
Paula Kiger (@biggreenpen) says
I hear you on that – my kids were 5 and 2. But my daughter and I went to the site shortly after 9/11, and we went back in 2014 when she was much older. I am glad we shared that visit together (those visits…). Do go when you feel emotionally ready; it’s something that everyone should see, IMO.
Diane Tolley says
Oh, my word, I had to wait until the tears cleared. What a beautiful, touching story. ‘Hugging them’. An outpouring of love as only a child can do it.
Paula Kiger says
It truly is. Amanda is a wonderful parent, human, writer. I am glad her words moved you as they did me.