I remember exactly where I was when I heard that a plane crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. I bet you do too.
It was a profoundly sad day – a day that changed lives and an entire nation. I will never forget the unthinkable, unimaginable horror as I huddled around the television watching the ash of innocence unite a country in the most anguished grief it had ever known.
As the morning went on, the plane crashes went from one to three, each one an almost unrecoverable blow of terror – multiplying devastation into exponential heartache.
A new commitment to patriotism rose up like a phoenix out of the ashes of that pivotal day. We were certainly less naïve than we were before, but we were more united too. There was a surge of people who stepped out of their air-conditioned offices into the heat of the desert. They were willing to trade the comforts of their civilian life for the trials of war to ensure the freedom we had long taken for granted.
I don’t doubt the urgency of the call to serve which those soldiers must have felt. I was almost eight months pregnant with my first child on 9/11. Things that mattered to me before that day – the décor of the nursery, the name I would choose, decisions about going to work afterwards and finding a pediatrician, were suddenly inconsequential.
Somehow, life as we knew it was in jeopardy. My body was full with the promise of new life, and the sky was falling. All I wanted to do was have my baby. I didn’t care about the epidural anymore or even a hospital bed. The need to bring my baby into the world — even as crazy as it had become, was stronger than any urge I had ever known.
It’s hard to believe that almost 12 years have passed since that day. Harder still, to think of all those service men and women who have died while my little baby celebrated birthdays, played in countless baseball games, and brought his family an immeasurable amount of joy.
So it seemed fitting for us to give back to our armed forces. We volunteered to participate in Operation USO Care Package last week and spent hours helping to put together small comforts to be sent overseas to the men and women in our armed forces.
Each of us wrote several notes to be included with the packages. It’s hard to know what to say beyond thank you. Thinking of the uncomfortable conditions they endure, the families they leave behind, the fellow soldiers they have watched die; thank you seems kind of feeble. Still it’s a start, and the only one I knew to begin to convey my depth of gratitude.
My sons included words such as brave, kind and helpful on their notes, and like mine each one began with thank you. We stuffed bags with military precision. In formation, one beside the other, we filled our care packages with razors, toilet paper, a toiletry kit, a small bag of peanuts, some beef jerky, a little coffee, a bandana, keychain and a Reader’s Digest magazine.
We were outside in the middle of the day in the middle of the summer and the sweat had started running down my oldest son’s face, his hair matted and saturated underneath his ball cap. I thought about how much hotter it must be in the desert. Because my children looked a little faded, I thought it would be a good time to take a break for lunch.
On the way to the restaurant, I asked them if they could surmise what military life is like overseas by the contents of the packages we put together. My youngest son piped up with “hairy” referring to the need for a razor. My older son and I talked about what a treat the peanuts were and how they didn’t have access to books and magazines the way we do. In the middle of the conversation he interrupted me and asked, “Are you going to cry?”
I laughed. First, as hot as I was and as much as we had sweat, I don’t think I could have mustered up a single tear. Second, I didn’t feel sad. I just felt grateful and seeing how my son was beginning to know me not just as his mother, but as an individual (yes, perhaps a quirky, emotional one) made me feel even more so.
Rejuvenated and rehydrated from lunch, we returned to the cadence of stuffing care packages. I don’t know why my children didn’t complain, or ask how much longer, or act like the silly boys that they so often are, but we continued to work in silence. Maybe it was in reverence to the soldiers who would be at the receiving end of our deed as we have enjoyed the receiving end of their service for years
When I think of the comfort those small items will bring and the words of encouragement, gratitude and praise that will be opened with them, I am even more humbled. I have so much that I take for granted. I hardly consider a small bag of peanuts a treat, and an almost smaller wad of toilet paper seems like a bad joke.
Yet for those in service overseas, these are luxuries, small but important tokens to let them know we are thinking of them and we appreciate their sacrifice.
My son will turn 12–years-old this Thanksgiving and I still remember the urgency I felt to bring him into a world that suddenly seemed so fragile. I think how he asked me if I was about to cry and the laughter that his question evoked. There has been so much laughter in the years since his birth.
No, I am not about to cry. Instead I look skyward and remember the ash that fell that day and the country that rose up from it, spreading its wings to fly high once again.
No tears, just gratitude.