Life is absurd. And life is precious. Family is a lot of both.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

But Do You Remember September 12?

Naturally I remember where I was when my bathrobed neighbor stepped out and exclaimed, "A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center!"  I was busy buckling my toddler into his car seat, having just seen my two daughters off to elementary school, and I thought -- like so many others -- it was just a terrible accident. And, like so many others, as the reality continued to reveal itself, my day unfolded in stress and panic and fear. It was horrific in every way to watch the footage. It was scary to be living on a military installation that immediately locked its gates tight. The fear that the sky was truly falling felt almost tangible.

Late that night... After I had gathered our children and tucked them safely into bed. After my Soldier dragged home long after dark with heavy eyes and a heavy heart. After we had sought news of those we knew working at the Pentagon and in New York. After we had watched over and over the collapse of the towers where we'd stood atop the observation deck less than a year prior. After we finally turned off the light and tried to sleep. After it all, I wondered what tomorrow would bring.

I would not have guessed that it would bring humor. And life. And joy.

It began with a 5:00 a.m. phone call from the new sergeant with the pregnant wife. We'd met them just weeks earlier and, as military people do, we offered to watch their five older children when the time came for the baby to be born. That sweet infant, oblivious to the tragedy, decided to make his debut in the early hours of September 12.

"Of course," I said. "I'll be right over to get the kids. Do not worry."

School was cancelled on military installations. If memory serves me correctly, most offices and services were also closed as the Army fought to react quickly to an emergency with unknown parameters. "Thank goodness I stocked up on groceries two days ago," I thought as I loaded five extra kids into my van in the early morning light.

Only 12 years ago. Our JAG family at Fort Leonard Wood.
All Soldiers were on high alert so my husband was gone at dawn to his office. As I was settling the extra kids into our little set of quarters and wondering what to do all day, the doorbell rang. Our neighbor stood in his uniform with his two small sons.

"No one can get through the gate so I've been called in to work the pharmacy," he explained. He was supposed to be on leave as his wife was in the hospital with a kidney infection.

"Of course I'll watch the boys," I said. "Neither of you need to worry. Go do what you need to do."

So while the world was glued to the news stations trying to work out what had happened and what it meant, I pulled out VHS tapes of Nick Jr. and found juice cups for ten children. I have strong feelings about exposing children to adult horrors so there was no way we were going to watch any of the coverage. We were, instead, going to get on with the business of being kids.

We used an entire loaf of bread and jar of peanut butter to make a picnic lunch. We walked in a single-file line like ducklings to the neighborhood park and played. Hard. The higher the swings went, the harder they laughed. The sillier I made the Follow-the-Leader game, the more hilarious they thought it was. We guessed when the baby might be born and thought of funny names for him. When we were exhausted, we strolled home, spread out bean bags and blankets, and passed the popcorn while we watched "Mary Poppins".

Though the sun shone bright and the children were good company, I fought tears all day long. None of us adults knew then what September 11 was going to mean, but those of us in the Army knew it would mean a swift and harsh change for us. My phone rang. We traded information about Soldiers we knew who worked at the Pentagon. We worried together about going to war. We knew it was coming. We were overcome with the emotion of patriotism just like everyone else as we watched the flags unfurl all over this country. We all felt the intense togetherness. And we all felt the fear.

I look back with affectionate appreciation on those ten kids who kept me company on September 12, 2001. They forced me away from the television and into the sunshine, ensured that I would laugh when I wanted to cry, and showed me that love and life and joy could not be hidden, even by the cloud of ashes that was blowing.


  1. That is a great story. I'm always so impressed with military families. The way they take care of each other, the way they buck up and get things done even when it is so, so difficult.

  2. Thank you! My military friends are some of the best people I've ever known.

  3. Just awesome. Great post, Susanna!

  4. I can almost remember that day. I remember living in Fort Leonard Wood though. I also remember my mom being in the hospital with kidney stones. Seems like it was so long ago.

    1. That's the funny thing about kids and grown ups. To us it seems like just yesterday. :) You guys all grow up way too fast.