Suzanne and I are strong adherents of being forthright and honest with our children, but this sudden question was a real moment of truth for me. How to explain the notion of sanctioned murder? To a six-year old?
I didn’t want to burden him with certain harsh realities of the world, but I also couldn’t miss this unique, teachable moment to instill what I felt was important cultural knowledge in my next of kin. So I endeavored to build a case against this strange-looking old man in the pictures.
Up to that point, I hadn’t yet explored the encyclopedia of video clips on YouTube capturing the events of 9/11/01—an endless catalog of news reports, interviews and footage. If I hadn’t felt so raw while my son and I reviewed these moving pictures, I might have marveled more at how the digital age has made American history so accessible.
But for me, seeing the towers fall in New York again meant physically revisiting the chaos of that day from my own memory bank: a beautiful late-summer Tuesday that morphed into the surreal when an out-of-place boom directed my attention to the Pentagon, visible from where I was just a mile or two away. In the days, weeks and months to follow, a strange new anxiety grew in me that was palpable—and was, for over a year, inescapable.
The faltering voices of the broadcasters in the videos, the shrieking and panicking bystanders near the towers, the sheer level of destruction on display, and a teary-eyed, choked up father was more than enough for my son to comprehend the evil at play here.
And then he asked me, “Is that why you were in Afghanistan, dad?”
“You’re a wise young man,” I replied.