The death of Osama bin Laden on May 1, 2011 triggered powerful feelings for many people around the world. For me, it prompted a flashback to September 11, 2001 and the overwhelming feelings of that day, and the equally powerful memories on the one-year anniversary. I wrote a newspaper column for each of those events, and what follows below is taken from the column I wrote to mark the one-year anniversary. The feelings resonate with me just as strongly today as when I wrote them nine years ago:
Planes crashing. Buildings falling. People screaming.
Where were you when the first plane hit the first tower? A friend and I were at Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo studios in downtown Chicago, awaiting a show taping. After the planes hit, a very emotional Oprah came out to talk to the audience in her slippers, bathrobe, glasses and hair curlers. She said, “They say the show must go on, but not at Harpo it doesn’t.”
I admired Oprah so much at that moment for canceling the show, offering support to her guests and, most of all, for baring her soul. But all I could think was, “Get me home.” We joined the excruciatingly slow mass exodus from Chicago. Home never looked so good, and I never held my children so tight.
The images in our minds from September 11 are vivid and just as frightening years later. The events embedded a powerful scar upon our psyche; one you don’t think about all the time, but it’s still there. We can hope that it fades over time, but it will never go away. Not even because the man responsible for the destruction and ensuing changes to our lives is now dead.
Osama bin Laden and September 11 changed many things about our world. Those of us who were too young to feel the impact of Pearl Harbor lost our innocence by realizing that our country is, indeed, vulnerable. We fought back, we became a bit paranoid, and we pulled our children even closer to us.
Many parents felt that their family dynamics changed completely. “I dismiss my worries much faster,” says Shelley, a mother of three. “I can’t imagine anything in my life being that bad. The result is a closer – almost spiritual – bond with my family members.”
Others realized just how precious the fleeting moments are with our children. “I tend to appreciate the little things more now, instead of counting down the minutes ’til bedtime!” says Elaine, a mother of three.
Perhaps the most important lesson we learned is to live in the moment, to savor each day with our families. “The two things I try to keep in mind every day are that you can’t take your freedom for granted and that life is short, and you should treasure the people you have with you today,” says Jessica, a mother of three.
Adds Shelley, “I realized how fast we have been trying to push our children to grow up and be independent. We are always thinking about the future. In the process, we are missing all the todays. I try to parent my kids for their lives right now.”
It seems as though more babies than ever are being born, perhaps in celebration of our freedom or in defiance of our enemies. And as we celebrate our families, we will always remember those who lost their lives, those who lost loved ones, those who saved countless people with their acts of heroism and those who continue to fight for our country. On every September 11, “I’ll think about those families all day long. I’ll think about the soldiers in Afghanistan. I’ll think about my life. I know I will shed tears,” says Shelley.
“My family will reflect on special times and prepare for new beginnings,” says Jessica. “Every time I look at my baby, I think of all the women who were also pregnant when 9/11 happened. I remember looking down at my belly and wondering how this world would look when my baby arrived. Now I look at my baby, and I still wonder what the future holds for him and for every child. But I also have incredible faith in humanity.”