September 11, 2011

Remembering where we were

On this 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks many of us will reflect on where we were as the horror of that day unfolded.

In this excerpt from my book, "Ribbons of Highway: A Mother-Child Journey Across America," I share how my family took that terrible day and transformed it into an enriching odyssey:

Although my kids and I didn't climb into the van and drive off until nine months later, our 12,000-mile American road odyssey began on September 11, 2001.

Where I was and what I was doing when the planes ripped through New York are part of my life's fabric. I was outside painting the fence brown, telling my neighbor Donna that I had plenty of time now to do the job my 13-year-old son was supposed to have finished because I'd just been laid off. We groused about the economy's sorry state and mused over whether things could get any worse.

In the next instant, they did. The kitchen phone rang. It was my husband calling from the car to tell me one of the Twin Towers had been hit. Mike was on the road, making sales calls, and hadn't seen any pictures yet. He'd only heard the radio reports.

The paintbrush hardened outside in the sun, pieces of cut grass sticking up like spikes in the brown mess.

When Adam and Dana came home from school we gathered around the table on the deck and began, as a family, to sort through facts and feelings and fears. The kids' teachers had done a good job dispensing comfort and assurance before sending them home. By the time they got to us, we'd decided we had three things to communicate: they were safe and loved; America was strong; the world's people were good.

To our family, this last point was as important as the others, because our kids have been traveling the world since they were babies. Respect for the world's people is part of their upbringing. This is a gift, and we'd allow no senseless act, however brutal, nor any retaliatory distrust or intolerance, to steal it.

My mind's eye called up images: two Turkish teenagers kicking a soccer ball with a five-year-old Adam on the grounds of Topkapi Palace; Adam joining a group of Bolivian boys in tabletop foosball during recess at Copacabana's school, Lake Titicaca shining at the end of the street; the kids building sand castles with Javier and Daniel, two Belizean brothers who'd pass our hotel each day on their way to class; Dana setting off for a bird walk, in the shadow of Kilimanjaro, with Mike and Masai chief Zapati. These experiences enrich life and must continue.

As the painful, numbing slowness of the weeks immediately following September 11 yielded to something approximating normalcy, I regained enough focus to give the future some thought. That future had us traveling again, but this time, we'd get to know our America.