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the day after

the day after

September 12, 2006

I never really hear people talking about September 12, 2001. I remember that day even more clearly. Perhaps it is because by then I had tracked down everyone that I knew. I had fielded phone calls from people who had vague ideas that Rob traveled but had no idea when or where he would be. Heard all the stories of friends of friends of friends that I could bear to hear. It was the day I finally started breathing again.

I didn’t leave my house on that September 11. I had nowhere to go.

The next day as I drove down the road I noticed the flags. Flags hanging on every house I went past. Huge flags that hung two stories from the top of their house, rows of tiny flags lining their walkway, flags hanging on flagpoles, flags displayed in windows. I wondered where these people had gotten all these flags in one day. Had they had the flags and never displayed them? I had never seen so many flags, not even on July 4th. (I also noticed how many people hung their flags backward and wondered why they didn’t think it loked weird to have the stars on the right). People with signs on their lawns, “God Bless America” or “We Will Never Forget” and a lump welled up in my throat and my eyes were filled with tears. I am not normally like that.

Mingling with the tremendous sadness and loss there was an underlying sense somehow that we as a country were united. We were strong. We would persevere. We still had hope.

And now five years later I wonder where those feelings went.

What is the biggest change since September 11, 2001?

I hear people say it was the day the realized their own mortality. The day they saw the face of God… or lost their faith in him. The day they decided to pursue their dreams or mend past relationships. When I reflect on what has changed for me on a personal level, it is much more subtle.

Now when my husband travels for work and gets on a plane, the children say, “I hope no one crashes your plane into a building.” Or when they wave goodbye as he drives off to the airport one of them will nonchalantly say, “I hope he doesn’t die, Mom” and then they go right back to riding on their scooter, hitting a baseball, tormenting their sibling.

This nonchalant attitude isn’t because they don’t love their father, they do. It’s just that this is a real possibility in their minds. Even the ones who were not old enough to remember the day itself. It is the back drop to their lives. Terrorism:It’s the new normal.

One time I got annoyed and snapped back at one of them, “Of course nothing is going to happen. Of course he is coming back.”

And my third born son looked me in the eye and said, “Didn’t all those people [on 9/11] think that too?” And he was right. Upon examining my own reaction I realized that I didn’t want to be reminded of that fact either. I wanted to pretend things were the same as they had been before that day.

That is the lingering legacy of September 11.

That my children have this sense that nothing is a given. There are no absolutes that they can count on. That the idea of a plane crashing into a building and killing people isn’t some far fetched idea. It is real. It happened.

Posted by Chris @ 8:12 am  

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  1. Meg says:

    I feel the same way - I try the same tactic to reassure myself (since Sophia’s not old enough yet to vocalize such fears) and then I realize that it’s all real. What a reality.

  2. Lucie says:

    Chris-OMG-how true, how touching how sad.

    Thank you for this post as much as yesterday’s.

  3. Erika says:

    Well written, and sadly very true. I often wonder if my sleepless nights started about that time. As did my fear of death and leaving my children without a mother. I pray for those families who lost someone on that day, as well as lost a loved one ever. I hope that we remember why we became a united country on that day, and stop some of the bitterness that comsumes on a daily basis. I wish more people were just happy to wake up.

  4. Novaks8 says:

    I often wonder where that patriotism went as well.

    Why do we only stick together when something bad happens?

    Why can’t we put forth that much effort every day?

    I guess we get too involved with our TV shows and worrying about matching our shoes to our handbags.

    I am just glad that our military hasn’t forgotten.
    They are still out there busting their butts every day for very little in return.

  5. Darren McLikeshimself says:

    “Terrorism: It’s the new normal.”

    That’s exactly what it did for me. Whereas I once never thought about it, I now go into nearly every situation imagining the various ways I could be killed by someone who desperately wants me and everyone else dead.

    And remind me to never discuss air travel with your children.

  6. Mary says:


    I’m a regular reader and sometime commenter. Thanks for writing about the day after. I do think you are the only blog I’ve read that has talked about the new world our children live in. FYI, I included your post in a list of 9/11 recommends on my latest post.

  7. Susan says:

    Wow. That is really profound. And very, very sad.

    And yeah, where is all that patriotism, all those people who were united as one? We’re back to the same old selfish, inconsiderate society we were before 9/11. I notice it every, single day.

  8. Velma says:

    This is exactly what I’ve been struggling with in explaining 9/11 to my 6 year old. I find it very difficult to convey the reality of what happened without scaring the shit out of her, but I don’t feel comfortable keeping it from her when she asks. I have that motherly urge to protect her innocence, yet for her own benefit, I want her to understand the world as it IS, not as I wish it to be. Thanks.

  9. Bryanne Mayhew says:

    This is more in response to some of the comments here than your post, Chris, which was very touching.

    I sincerely believe that people in general have not lost sight of the tragedy of that day. I don’t think folks simply went back to their selfish ways, although some may have. I believe that people do not put forth the same level today as on 9/12 because as humans we just can’t, our nerves just can’t take it. We have to go back to some level of normalcy, we have to let go a little, or the rage and the rawness make us lose sight of what we really need to do, which is live.

    I also think that the level of patriotism that many felt on that day may have been tarnished by subsequent events.

    Yes, we need to remember 9/11, and yes, we cannot forget the folks who died that day, the choices some of them had to make, and the bravery and selflessness that was revealed, but can we live every day like 9/11 was yesterday? No. What we do is perhaps call our loved ones a little more often, tell them we love as often as we can, try to be kinder to others and make the Herculean effort to forgive others when they are not kind in return. Massive displays like 9/12 and the following weeks are unsustainable, but I’m sure most of us have made smaller changes that keep that day, and how it made us feel, in our hearts every day.

  10. ree says:

    I tried to talk about this with my students (first year law students) yesterday and I didn’t feel up to the task. The only thing I could get out, other than taking a moment of silence at 8:45 and 9:03, was the lasting lesson that our lives can change in a second.

    This post is an example of why I visit your site every single day. Like so much of your writing, I read it and I think, exactly. Thank you.

  11. Kate says:

    SO true, no one could say it any better

  12. Cheryl says:

    I for one have never understood the extreme national patriotism surrounding 9-11 when it’s really people of the ever more connected global community, all over the world, those who like us want to live their lives with happy secure children growing up in safety, that need to unite. It needs to be ‘us’ as a world population that strives to combat terrorism worldwide. Too much ‘usness’ and ‘themness’ and we get used by those in power, using our fear for their own purposes and pretending that their actions are for our welfare.
    I think young children should be sheltered from all the horribleness. There will be plenty of time later to let them know how the world really is.

  13. Danielle says:

    I was feeling the same way. This is the reality for them. It is us that is struggling to deal with it. My oldest acts the same way and he was only seven weeks old when it all happened five years ago.

  14. InterstellarLass says:

    So very true. It’s amazing how children can see these things so clearly.

  15. Jennifer says:

    This is another very perceptive post, Chris. It is normal. What normal is now. I have thought that so many times but have never been able to put it in words quite as succinctly as you have here. Each time I look at flights and choose mine, I hope it’s not the same random flight a hijacker has chosen. Isn’t that crazy? Isn’t it crazier that I can live with that as if it were perfectly fine?

    September 11th changed everything so much that we can barely remember what it was like before.

  16. chris says:


    It wasn’t “us” as a global communtiy that was attacked. It was “us” as a nation. I understand the extreme patriotism. I get it. hell, I even felt it in those weeks following September 11th, which given my general attitude says a lot.

    I suppose the question I was asking in my post was more of a rhetorical one.

    My husband had said the first time when we saw the We Will Never Forget signs that people would forget. And we have forgotten.

    We have forgotten what life was like before. We have forgotten that we used to have something else to compare our new reality to. We have forgotten the horror of the day.

    As far as shielding children, I think that is somewhat naive. My children certainly don’t know the grisly details, but it difficult to shelter them completely. How do you explain when you are going into a government office and your one year old needs to be frisked and have a metal detector passed over him? That’s our new world.

  17. Mir says:

    *sigh* Can we just put our kids into nice safe bubbles? Seeing our children accept evil as a part of life is (for me) the hardest part of all of this. Well put.

  18. T in HD says:

    That line “Terrorism: It’s the new normal” summed up post 9/11 perfectly for me. It was from that day, that I realized that there are people out there who would take great pleasure in killing my family–my innocent children–simply because of the circumstances of their birth. Hate has never hit home for me like that thought has.

  19. JustLinda says:

    Terrorism is the new Cold War….


  20. eko says:

    I have never been very patriotic, I just think nationalism is not a good thing (as history has shown). I was a lone protester during grade school, when 1976 rolled around (200th bday!!!! ;-)).

    I think this country has learned to be uncivil to each other, has forgotten to BE OKAY with disagreeing - and instead allowing it to breed hate.

    I have also learned over my many years that the U.S. is not thee most important place ever, and civilizations before us have fallen to ruin and it can happen to us.
    I know too that often what is of such importance to the US is often not even an issue to other countries.

    While I do not always agree with him, the actor James Woods was on Leno last night, and what he said about indifference and the inability to confront WHAT terrorism really is, will be our ruin. (I never watch late night television but did for some reason last night.)

  21. eko says:

    Oh, and I mean “protester” in the sense that people of the United States were all rabid-frenzied with the idea that WE’RE #1 - and those BIG ass fingers were worn by everyone at the Olympics beginning then, and the focus was always on us and us and no other country. As a 8yo, it felt really wrong and skewed and inclusive…

  22. eko says:

    grrr, make that EXCLUSIVE
    BIG SIGH. That’s what 9/12 means to me exhaustion ;-)

  23. Debbie says:

    I blogged about this from the other side. It wont make me popular but I think it adds a balance…

  24. Maddy says:

    My kids are no longer shocked by the image of a plane hitting a building, how sad is that.

    I remember feeling horrified and wondered what kind of mind could think of turning a plane into a missile and then convince others that it would work.

    My children live with that possibility as normal. More horror.

  25. Daisy says:

    For me, it was September 14, the candlelight vigil, the memorial service at the National Cathedral, our neighborhood cop pacing slowly playing Amazing Grace on his bagpipes.

  26. kathryn, dym says:

    At one moment I am so glad my children were not around to witness that day. At the next, I wonder what they will witness.

  27. Mary Tsao says:

    My husband just told me today that he bought an illustrated novel that depicts the events of September 11, 2001. Even though our kids weren’t born, he wants them to know about that day — the events and also the politics before and after. I’m not sure when he’s going to teach it to them, probably not for many years, but he will.

  28. Joy H says:

    I was one month from delivering my 3rd child and my other two were 17mos. and 3yo. Even five years later, I don’t think they’ve seen the tower/plane footage. We use airline travel at least twice a year and I do not want my kids petrified everytime we fly.

    Sheltered, maybe. BUT I don’t think it would benefit them to try and understand what really happened that day. Hell, I can’t even understand it.

  29. Katie says:

    9/12 was a surreal day. The cocoon of the hospital was a godsend for me. Post 9/11, I can never watch planes fly overhead with the same innocence.

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