I thought about the picture last night. Early this morning, first cup of coffee in me and second cup of coffee in hand, I went looking for it. It’s a photo of my cousin Alison and me.
My dad and her mom are brother and sister, and Ali and I are five months apart in age. Though we have never lived very close to one another distance-wise, I feel like we’ve still somehow shared a good bit of our lives together. And I’m grateful for that.
This photo of Alison and me, it was taken in August of 1986. My family (we lived in Texas at the time) had driven up the east coast on a summer vacation. The trip included a visit to Jersey City, New Jersey, where Alison and her family lived. In the picture, we’re standing on a New Jersey sidewalk that happens to have a magnificent view of Manhattan.
Including the twin towers of the World Trade Center.
I am pretty sullen in the picture, and Ali doesn’t exactly look thrilled either. We were 11–and of course had no idea that one day this picture one of our parents was snapping would be something to treasure. To hold on to, as I have held on to it since those towers fell.
Everybody has a memory. Everybody can tell you where they were that morning. Everybody has a story.
I think what I am cognizant of, this year, this particular anniversary, is how much it still hurts. How terrifying it still is. And how much awful, gut-wrenching, life-changing sadness and pain and violence has come from it.
I was in my car, pulling into my regular coffee shop, when the national moment of silence began this morning, and I parked, turned my car off, and bowed my head and stayed still. And quiet. For 90 seconds. And I felt the presence of others, all over the nation, all over the world, perhaps, doing that with me.
This very worst of days–it somehow brings out the best in us. Some years I have wanted to wonder at that. Theorize about why and how and if we could somehow make that “best” last. But today I just found myself thankful for it. It was a glimmer of light in the darkness of remembering–a sign of hope that such horror does not ever have the last word.
When I found the picture this morning, Curly Girl, who was inhaling Trader Joe’s pancakes and watching Girl Meets World, stopped, put down her fork and paused Netflix and asked, “What’s that picture, Mommy?” I said, “Well,” and as I held it up began to tell her the story.
And then she held up one hand, and said, “Oh. Wait. I know. Those are those buildings those planes crashed into.”
Sort of stunned I said, “Yes. That’s right. But honey, this happened six years before you were born. Those people did that before you were born…how do you…??”
She shrugged. And then, realizing what I’d said, exclaimed, “WAIT. Someone did that ON PURPOSE?!?”
And then I knew. She’d heard stories. Seen pictures. But in her safe little world has assumed an accident.
My heart just shattered as I said, “Yes, honey. Yes. Someone did that on purpose.”
“There’s that much evil?” she said, obviously horrified.
“Yes,” I said, quietly, “There is.”
But then I said–and I believe this–“But honey, there is so much more good.”
We have a new neighbor. I haven’t met him yet, but his license plate and some bumper stickers indicate he is a veteran of the conflict in Afghanistan. He just moved in this week. I just realized his plate and stickers this morning. Obviously I do not know his story…but it is a safe guess that today is a difficult day for him, because it marks the day that would lead to his deployment. I’d like to thank him–because no matter how I feel about war or politics or anything else I am grateful for the men and women who feel called to defend our country no matter why they’re asked and no matter the cost.
So much evil. So many lives irrevocably altered. So much about our nation and our world never the same.
There’s that much evil? she said. Yes, I said. But there is so much more good.
That’s what I’m holding onto today. And hoping with all I am that it proves true for her and this world she’s claiming as her own.