On Remembrance…

There are so many emotions and memories wrapped up in this the tenth anniversary of September 11th. I’ve already become weepy over a State Farm commercial and a Josh Groban song (thinking of you Kim). Sure…I’m pregnant and hormonal. But in all honesty, those feelings, those moments, though ten years gone are like a soft spot that never quite firmed up. There will always be a small place that is immediately raw and vulnerable.

I want Cedella, and all of my future children to know about this day, about this horrendous attack and loss of innocent lives. Just as I will teach them about the horrors of slavery, Jim Crow and Civil Rights. As they will learn about the Lebanese-Israeli wars and conflicts. World War II and the Holocaust. The Revolutionary War. As much as any parent wants to protect their children from the ugliness and violence in our world, how can they learn to be peaceful and just if they don’t know all of these awful things? Death and pain and horror are part of all of our lives, despite our desire to deny them. Questions will certainly arise in the years to come and why sugarcoat the answers or skirt around the issues? Why let the opportunity to have an open and honest conversation about the most difficult of subjects go by?

Today more than any other day in our collective history is one such teachable moment. A moment of tremendous sadness for our entire nation, but also a moment of heroics and togetherness and resilience. So today I want to share with you a letter that I will read with Cedella when such questions arise.

Dear Cedella,

Today is the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks on our country. I’m sure you will wonder where I was on that day. Where was Daddy? How did it make us feel? Were we scared? Did we cry? One day Daddy will tell you his story. Here is my story…

On that Tuesday morning the alarm went off at 7:45am. Just in time for Oprah. You see just a few days before, Saturday September 8th, 2001 Mama had moved from Detroit to Chicago with an old boyfriend, Jason. And Oprah was on at 8am in Chicago. And Mama tried very hard to never miss an episode of Oprah, no matter the time zone.

I moved with Jason, his sister (your Auntie) Jen and their cousin Angela. We were all going to give it a go in the Big City and try something different and far from home. The day before we had painted our whole apartment, yellows and reds and oranges and greens. It was downright cheerful. A way to start off our new lives in our rent-controlled apartment in Chicago. We were all looking forward to getting our apartment in order. Finding jobs. Learning a new city. Taking the El to work. Proving to ourselves and our parents that we were all capable of taking care of ourselves and each other, it was the first time any of us had really been away from home.

And then suddenly Oprah was interrupted by an ABC special report. Peter Jennings was showing us that a plane had just hit the first tower, and then, as Jason and I lay there in bed the second plane hit. And suddenly nothing made sense. I remember saying ‘oh my god. oh my god. oh my god.’ Over and over like a mantra.

My mantra and wailing woke up Jen and Angela and all four of us crowded into my bedroom, the only room with a TV. We watched with horror and shock as the plane hit the Pentagon. Then the rumors started on the news and the phones started ringing.

There was a ‘missing’ plane. One that was reportedly on the way to the White House but changed course. Where was it headed? For several harrowing minutes the theory was in place that the plane was headed West, toward the Sears Tower. As we fielded phone calls from our terrified families back in Detroit and  around Chicago, we moved out to the balcony where the Sears Tower loomed just one mile directly east of our building.

We cried, we worried, we prayed and waited. And waited. And waited. The TV footage was constant and unrelenting. We could see the dust, hear the sirens, practically smell the burning jet fuel pouring as black smoke from the building. We watched as hundreds of firemen were going in as everyone else was running out.

But the worst? We saw birds, big hawks or eagles, drop from the sky. It took several long moments to realize they weren’t birds at all. They we people. Just regular people, who went to work that morning just like any other day. Mothers or fathers, sisters or brothers. Someone’s daughter or son. Someone’s true love or best friend. And they couldn’t get out, couldn’t get away, and so they jumped. That’s when I really lost it. I just could not imagine why someone would jump. It would be days and weeks before it was clear that there was no rescue coming. Helicopters couldn’t land. The entire building was fire and thick smoke. They knew they wouldn’t survive. But at that moment it was just unfathomable.

And then the first tower fell. And we cried as thousands of souls were lost in mere seconds. The air went out of the room.

Then before any of us could even get our breath back and wrap our heads around watching an entire building full of people fall, the second tower fell.

Who would do this? Were we under attack? Were we going to war, right in our country? Right now? The news said that the Pentagon was on fire, that part of it collapsed. It was unbelievable. We didn’t know what to do.

I was thinking how could God let this happen? How could God, full of love and forgiveness allow this to happen? And honestly my love, I’m still struggling to understand where God was on this day, or during any tragedy for that matter. But beginning this day I decided that church was not the only place to commune and to pray. There were many places for that in my world.

Te Te lived in the Andersonville neighborhood in the northern part of Chicago at the time. She was calling every few minutes begging us to get in the car and drive away from downtown. We still didn’t know where the other plane was. But we couldn’t. None of us had the strength or the presence of mind to get out of there. Come what may, this was our home now, we would not abandon it.

We stayed glued to the TV all day, short of the brief time we wandered to the diner on the bottom floor of our building for breakfast, not that anyone could eat anything.

By then the other plane had been accounted for. Brought down by brave men and women who refused to allow the hijackers another mobile bomb. The plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, without harming anyone else but the poor souls on board. Those heroes remained on my mind for year’s after. Their families lost their loved ones. But this country gained a new definition of ‘hero’. We must never forget their courage and sacrifice.

In the days and weeks to follow it was as if every single person we met was family. The nation bonded and connected and collectively grieved. It was at once inspiring and comforting. We sat belly-up at the bar one night and listened, enraptured with all of the other customers as the names of the fallen were spoken live on television. We saw their photographs, full of hope and light from days before the tragedy, and we all cried. Even the stoic tattooed biker bartender wiped tears from his scruffy cheeks.

We watched the news relentlessly, scared to miss a new detail or theory. And then it began. The terrorists were unveiled as being Muslim extremists connected to Osama Bin Laden. The blaming and finger pointing began as did the ceaseless harassment of innocent Americans. Friends of ours in Dearborn were threatened and blamed, because of their religion. And the new bridge of humanity and oneness began to tarnish and rust away.

And just as quickly as we all came together as a nation we all moved on with our lives. Some began having prejudice feelings and harboring hatred for people with lives and religions they didn’t know about or understand. Some people became champions for peace and for honoring those who lost their lives by working to help and care for those family members left behind. And still others, like your Mama, thought of the day often, and every time remembered to be kinder, more thankful and more alive in every precious moment we are gifted with.

On that day, ten years ago, though only 22 and thinking I was fully grown, I grew up even more. I realized how important life was, how precious, how fleeting. I realized that every day mattered. That every day not spent with those you love were wasted. I vowed to myself to be the best person I knew how to be. I vowed that one day my children would live in a world where this type of violence and hatred didn’t occur.

A lot has happened in ten years. My father, your Grandpa Robert, his father, Grandpa AB and his mother, Grandma Jesse have all passed away, as have many other friends, family members and acquaintances. I moved home from Chicago, broke up with that boyfriend, and eventually found your father and fell madly in love. I went back to school and got my bachelor’s degree. I traveled part of the world with your father. Then I married him. And then came you and all the joys of motherhood. So much about me has changed, my weight, my dreams, my values, my priorities. But not all of me. That scared and affected 22 year old girl is still there. She will always be there, to remind me of what I learned that day.

And ten years later, our nation is still at war in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of American men and women have to say goodbye to their families and head into harm’s way to protect us and the world from another devastating attack. They may lose their lives. Kids may lose one of their parents. But they do it because it is their job and they believe in protecting us. We should be thankful for them, but we should also pray that they come home soon and that no more lives are lost.

Our nation, and a lot of our world, still remains prejudice against Muslim people to the point of insulting the president and questioning his ability to lead by claiming he is a secret Muslim. And yet across the primarily-Muslim Middle East, Arab brothers and sisters are raising up against extreme regimes and oppression. They don’t hold the ideals of the terrible people that boarded those planes and smashed into those towers. They are like your Mama or Daddy, they want a decent and free place to raise kids and be a family. We should pray that this moment in history finds peace and freedom for all the people in the world.

Our politicians and our fellow Americans constantly argue and fight over who has the better way of doing things. The connected feeling on this tenth anniversary, this shared memory and emotion, is so incredibly strong today. We all watch the footage, with collective sighs of pain and remembrance today. But to say that connection always exists in a country that is so sharply divided down the middle would be false. This country has faded very far away from being brought together by tragedy. Every other day of the year most people forget that we are, in fact, all in this thing together. We are all one America.

My biggest hope for you, and for your siblings, and for all the children of your generation, is to find a way to make this connection, this togetherness, this American pride, last. To make it something to be proud of. Not as a divided country full of hatred and springing to war with countries that have not attacked us. My prayer for you is that you can find an end to war for good. That your generation will be the generation of everlasting peace.

I hope that you see people of different faiths, that look different, that have different opinions or views than your own, and that you accept them for what they are and let them live their lives. Yes there are bad, ugly, hateful, violent people in this world. And on 9/11/01 some of these bad people took the lives of thousands of innocent regular people that had done nothing wrong. It doesn’t make sense, huh? Hate and violence never make sense, they are never the correct solution or answer to one’s problems. Know that the ugliness and hatred comes from ignorance. I hope for you to be educated and to educate those around you about the beauties of each and every unique culture on this planet.

But most importantly I hope and pray that you live each day as if it is a gift. Because it is my love. Though I may have learned that on 9/11 it didn’t become reality until you came into the world and every day since has been full of love and wonder. We must never forget the lessons of that day. We must never forget what a miracle life is when it comes into this world and how easy life can slip away.

I love you more than I could ever put into words. You are a blessing to me each and every moment. I have every faith in you growing up to be a kind and thoughtful individual, you already are.  Thank you for listening to my story and thank you for being my daughter.

Love you to the Moon and back,





  1. Kim says:

    Which Josh song? 😉 He gets me all the time. This was a tear jerker, of course. I want my kids to know, as well. I just wasn’t prepared for Violet to understand THIS year. I completely failed in that department. She was listening to her radio and they were doing one of those rememberance deals, playing radio footage overlayed over the songs, I guess. She completely flipped. It was so horrible that I’ve told her she doesn’t have to go to school today, where it will be discussed more. The only problem is, I haven’t told her the story, because at 8, I honestly don’t feel she’s ready. And seeing as I had to hold her for 45 minutes as she sobbed about a little girl losing her father on 9/11, I’m honestly afraid. Ideas?
    Kim recently posted..Everywhere Around The World . . .

    • Alexia says:

      I don’t remember what song it was, I was too busy looking for Kleenex. But it was a duet. Sounded like an old hymn or gospel. Really beautiful.

      Poor kind sensitive Violet…things like this will always affect her big ole heart. I don’t know if 8 is the right time to have this conversation. I do know though by 6 my little sister was capable of understanding good and bad, happiness and suffering. That’s when our Dad died, and we all thought she would be the one the most affected. After crying like the rest of us, she had a more pure and calm understanding. Though she was admittedly sad, she didn’t complicate the sadness with all of our adult baggage. She knew Dad was sick and had a bad heart and wasn’t in pain anymore. She knew she didn’t do anything wrong to lose him, that it just happened. She is quite sensitive, like Violet, so maybe your sweet girl will be able to understand this now too.

      I think the most important part is for kids to know that the people that died that day were good people and that bad people with hate in their hearts took their lives, that sometimes death happens, but we can’t always explain it. At her age I don’t think the details and the horror of the images are necessary. But maybe play up the hero aspect. Though many people lost their lives there were many people that were brave and saved lives that day. The firefighters, the police, the paramedics, the regular folks that helped people evacuate the buildings and the Flight 93 passengers.

      Good luck Kim! Let me know how it all went…

  2. kerwin says:

    As you take time to reflect on those horrible memories from 9/11 also take time to reflect on the strength and unity that our great country gained as a result of it. Our resolve showed the terrorists that we are force to be reckoned with and will prevail!!! When you encounter a firefighter, a police officer or a member of the military take a minute to say thank you not just on 9/11 but every day. GOD BLESS AMERICA!!

  3. Tracey says:

    That was a scary, crazy, horrible time. I was two weeks from turning 21 and already on the verge of abandoning my attempt at city life. In a lot of ways, that day was what made me move home. Not just because it brought me low (which it did), but because all I wanted that day was to be around family and friends. I wanted to be home in the worst way. And three months later, I was home and felt I could finally breathe again.

    Whenever I’m in Chicago now, I feel that old familiar tug; the thought that pulls me back to that place where I was a scared 20-year-old who saw her country momentarily devastated. I don’t ever want to go back to that time and place. Not for anything.

    I don’t look back on the event of September 11th like most people. I don’t take it as a lesson in humanity and compassion; resolve and unity. The terrorist attacks were frightening and overwhelming and the weird, scared place this country became in the aftermath is unforgivable. It still makes me angry… pissed as hell. I’ve tried to let these feelings go, but there they remain, deep down inside. Maybe they’ll always be there.

    But you know what? I don’t mind this feeling so much anymore. It’s the fire that takes me to the voting booth for simple school board elections on rainy days. It drives me to be invested in understanding politics, local and global; to be invested and aware of the world around me. To be a more cognizant and engaged person.

    I love that you wrote your thoughts about that day to Monk. I know one day she’ll read it and come away with an understanding of that day and how it changed things.

    • Alexia says:

      It was really hard for all of us to stay in Chicago after that. Remember Jen and Ang left by Thanksgiving. And then when Dad died, that was my swan song with the Windy City. What a time though. We’ll always have Chicago!

      Don’t get me wrong. I’m very angry or pissed about the state of our country. I just don’t want to impress my anger or frustration upon Monk and at this point I can’t hold onto the anger about 9/11, it just takes up too much space. She can decide for herself what her opinion is on the matter. And frankly, it probably won’t be that big of a deal to her. Like Pearl Harbor to us. You know?

  4. Christopher R Thurber says:

    Hey ‘Ella….
    Yer pop was the man who woke me up from my slumber. He sounded very distraught. He told me to get up and turn on the T.V. and continued w/ heart-broken vulgarities about American minorities being in a heightened state of danger. This ended up being an understatement.

    • Alexia says:

      Understatement is so true. I remember feeling so terrible for everyone in Dearborn who were just living their lives on 9/11 like everyone else and by 9/12 they all became labeled anti-American extremists. To say it was unsettling is also an understatement. Hate is a powerful thing. We need to teach Ella & Wells & all of the babies how to love everyone and reject hate. Thank you for sharing part of Daddy’s story Uncle Chris. One day I hope you can tell her the rest…

  5. You captured it all so eloquently. I was bawling like a baby all day Sunday watching the memorial service and anniversary shows.
    Teresha@ Marlie and Me recently posted..Toddler Log: 2 Years and 4 Weeks Old

    • Alexia says:

      Thanks girl. The tributes and memorials were definitely heart-wrenching. Add those extra hormones we’re both full of and it was a box of used Kleenex waiting to happen.

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