My precious daughter,
I watched this morning as you matter-of-factly dressed for school, your bright face eager to begin yet another day of first grade. To your sweet, innocent soul, today is a day like any other, a date on the calendar no different from yesterday or tomorrow.
But it is.
Today is September 11th, one of the most important days in history. It is a day of remembrance, of tragedy, marked by the deaths of 2,996 people who were killed in the largest attack ever on U.S. soil 14 years ago.
I’m thankful you weren’t alive to witness the chaos of that day in time, to watch the horrors unfold on your TV screen as I did in my apartment as a junior in college in Austin. You weren’t there to see buildings gape with plane-shaped holes in them, or skyscrapers topple to the ground like building blocks in smoldering piles of ash, or panicked, dust-covered people race through the city streets as clouds of smoke and debris loomed overhead in a scene straight out of a horror film. You didn’t have to agonize over the nearly 3,000 lives that were lost, wonder whether more attacks were coming, or fear your safety while walking to class.
I’m relieved that at six years old, you’re still too young to know that 9/11 ever even happened.
But I know someday—sooner than I would like—you’ll learn. As you grow, I’m sure you’ll occasionally hear adults reminisce about 9/11: where they were and what they were doing when they first heard the news of this defining event in history. I suspect it will feel similar to how I felt when my parents discussed their whereabouts when JFK was assassinated: you’ll recognize it as a big deal by the somber expressions and serious tones, but you won’t have any personal connection to it.
And yet someday, inevitably, your generation will experience its own version of 9/11: a catastrophic national or international tragedy that will change life as you know it. It will shock and shake you, make you question this crazy world we live in and your place in it, maybe even cause you to momentarily doubt your belief in God. You’ll see sights you wish you hadn’t and learn things you wish you never knew. The images from that day will burn into your mind for eternity, and though no one will want to remember it, the date will be impossible to forget.
As much as I wish I could prevent that day from coming, I know that it will, just as it has for countless generations before us both—when Kennedy was shot, when Pearl Harbor was attacked, when the Titanic sunk. And when it does, and you find yourself grappling with the events that occur and the jumble of fear, anger, sadness, and despair that follow, I hope you’ll remember these few things:
The world is a beautiful place.
It’s a scary one, too. And sometimes that fear will become crippling to you, particularly if you ever become a parent. Right after 9/11, long before you were ever thought of, let alone created, I remember asking my 20-year-old self: How can I ever bring a child into such a crazy, cruel world? But I realized, in time, that the world is a beautiful place in spite of its flaws.
Don’t let the bad things that happen leave you jaded. Remember to look around and soak in the wonders around you: a baby laughing, a flower blooming, a stranger smiling, a picturesque sunset sprawling across the sky. The simplest things that we take for granted every day, can sometimes remind us of how beautiful the world truly is. And it’s a necessary reminder when the world briefly turns ugly.
Even when there is bad, there is good.
Behind every tragedy there is a silver lining, and often it is the goodness of people’s hearts. After 9/11, an unusual thing happened that I’d never seen before: People united. They were kinder to each other. They donated dollars and blood and grieved those who were lost and flew their American flags with pride. For a brief moment, it felt like everyone in America was on the same side, and it was unbelievably refreshing to see in a time of turmoil. There’s something about watching people unite that restores your faith in humanity—and during a disaster, you’ll need to be reminded of its goodness.
Mr. Rogers once remarked on the words his mother told him when he witnessed scary things on the news as a child: “’Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” It’s true—the helpers are always there, and they far outnumber those who oppose them.
Life is precious.
It’s a cliché, I know, but the phrase “life is short” will never ring true more than after witnessing a tragedy. When you feel powerless, remember that you have the power to make each day count. Instead of spending your time worrying about things you cannot change, focus on what you can. Take (smart) chances. Laugh loudly. Love deeply. Show up every day, and do your very best. Be kind to others, and make it your mission to contribute to the greater good. It may be impossible to live each day as though it were your last, but give it your best shot.
Ordinary people can do extraordinary things.
One of the most profound lessons that 9/11 taught me is that heroes are all around us, and they aren’t always who or what we expect. On that fateful September day, thousands of people tirelessly worked to save our fellow men and women; 411 lost their lives in the process. Police and firefighters charged into burning buildings to rescue those who remained inside; search teams combed piles of rubble for days afterward to recover those trapped in the wreckage; civilians aboard United Flight 93 devised a plan to overpower the bad guys when they learned their plane had been hijacked, saving potentially hundreds, if not thousands, of lives as a result. In the weeks that followed, countless tales of heroism emerged—not about superheroes that you see in the movies but about regular people like you and me, who bravely fought to save others and make our world a better place.
Superheroes don’t always wear capes, and you never know who’s going to save the day. Remember that when you feel insignificant in the grand scheme, for you, too, are capable of greatness.[hr]
I wish I didn’t have to tell you these things. Know that if I could, I would protect you from all of the evils of the world and endure all of your heartbreaks for you. If I had it my way, the world would be filled with nothing but sunshine and rainbows and kind and loving people—which, believe me, would make it a lot less frightening for me to send my baby out into it alone.
But I can’t turn the world into something it’s not, any more than I can prevent you from growing up. All I can do is prepare you for the road ahead and pray that my words may offer you solace when you most need it.
The world is a scary but beautiful place, filled with wonder and goodness and the unlikeliest of heroes. Savor your time in it, my darling. And always remember how much I love you.