I was sitting at my desk at work on September 11, 2001, planning my son’s fourth birthday celebration. When he woke up that morning, he wanted Chinese food for his celebration dinner. Why, you ask? Because the local Chinese buffet had pizza.
No, I’m not kidding.
I was on AOL IM (does anyone actually use that program any longer?) with my buddy Mike Williamson, and we were chatting about the usual stuff when he wrote that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.
At that time, I replied that it must have been one drunk pilot, because my assumption was that it was a little plane with a very confused (and expired) pilot. We didn’t know any better at the time.
A few minutes later Mike wrote, “Holy shit! We’re under attack!” as we learned of a second plane and the Pentagon.
I desperately tired to reach my NCOIC (I was in the Army Reserves at the time, doing my drills in Crystal City), but all phone service had gone to shit.
I tried to reach my then-husband, but it was a no-go. He was in some kind of class, and he hadn’t heard the news. When he finally called me, I told him to call his work. He worked in the national security field.
I finally left work early and drove home to be with my son. I hugged him tight and told him daddy wouldn’t be home tonight, because something bad happened, and he had to work. The Redhead looked at me with these big, wide eyes and asked what happened. I told him bad men flew planes into buildings and killed a whole lot of people. The Redhead didn’t cry or throw a fit. He was understanding and a little scared. We had a nice little birthday together – me, him, and my daughters. Dad joined us later in the week, once things settled down a little.
Today marks 14 years since that fateful day. And The Redhead™ whose identity I protected for so many years because he was a minor, today is officially a man. Daniel is 18 years old, and he’s just as kind, understanding, gentle, and considerate as he was on that fateful day when his fourth birthday was ruined by “bad men” who flew planes into buildings and killed a whole lot of people.
The Daniel of today is generous. He is courageous. He’s stubborn – as redheads are wont to be. He has a huge heart. He’s dedicated and happy in his new college career. He’s rushing a fraternity. He’s running for elected office for the College Republicans. He works to pay for his car and his auto insurance. He’s doing ROTC, and he’s carrying a full course load.
Daniel has surpassed my expectations in every way, and I couldn’t be prouder of him!
On September 11, 2008, I advised him on this blog to live life to its fullest, despite the tragedy that marred his fourth birthday.
But I don’t ever want you to turn away, Redhead. I never want you to forget. I never want you to get distracted. I want you to remember, examine, question and learn. I want you to gain an understanding of the world around you, so that you can face it fully informed and fully aware. I want you to live your life to the fullest, knowledgeable, observant and vigilant. I want you to have no fear, because to know and understand something – even something horrible and evil – is to gain power over it. And to gain power over it makes it possible to face it and overcome it.
And I think he’s doing it. He’s achieving everything I wanted for him and more, and he’s a happy, well-adjusted, intelligent, respectful young man.
Today, as on all Septembers 11, I honor the fallen of that day and thereafter, and I proudly show my son as proof that the future looks bright despite the horrors of the past.
Happy birthday, Danny.