Seven more minutes of childhood; a father’s wish for his daughter the morning of 9-11

image My alarm clock went off the same as it always did back then, coming to life with the morning news — my preference over the annoying, high-pitched alternative of chatter. Instinctively, I swatted the snooze button and bought myself another seven minutes of sleep.

In the years since, I’ve thought a lot about those seven minutes, and how the simple push of a button postponed a bitter reality for just a little longer. When the news came on again, word of the first airliner crashing into the World Trade Center stopped my hand just short of another seven minutes of blissful ignorance — a time span that now seems like an eternity.

Lying there, listening to the details, I regretted not pushing the button one more time.

A hundred more times.

A thousand.

In that same moment, I also understood that the impassive gaze of terrorism could only be averted for so long, and that, eventually, I’d have to meet it — along with the questioning gaze of my daughter.

As a parent, I debated whether I should shield her from these events, essentially pushing the snooze button to allow her at least a few more minutes of childhood before waking her to this new, colder world. But how long, I wondered, would it be before she discovered reality on her own?

There are at least six news stands near our home, all with their front pages displayed at eye level for a child her age. I thought about the images that would be appearing in those small plexi-glass windows in the coming days and weeks. I thought about what she might overhear during playground conversations as children put their own interpretive spin on the language of adults heard from the radio, television and from discussions between parents after they thought their children were asleep.

My daughter suddenly appeared in the doorway, and I realized that I was still poised — frozen really — with my hand over the snooze button, still listening to the account of terrorism on the radio.

It was at this point that fragmented accounts of an attack on the Pentagon began, along with word of a downed jetliner somewhere in Pennsylvania. And maybe a car bomb near the capitol — a story that was interrupted by word of a second airliner crashing into the trade center towers.

“Dad, what’s happening?” my daughter asked.

She remained in the doorway, a departure from her normal routine of diving onto the bed. I noticed this instinctively, in much the same way she must’ve noticed my hand still hovering above the snooze button.

Neither of us moved; neither of us wanted to. At different levels, we both understood that moving meant setting things into motion that could somehow never be turned back.

Slowly, I drew my hand away from the alarm clock and gestured for her to join me on the bed. There was no running, no broad-smiled dive over the footboard. She approached with obvious hesitation, her eyes moving between the radio and me.

“What’s going on, Dad?” she asked again.

Pulling her close, we listened to the radio as I struggled to find the words to answer her question. After a series of false starts, I decided there was really only one place to begin.
As the events of that morning continued to unfold from the radio, we allowed our voices to carry over the reports of terrorism — and spoke, instead, of what it means to be an American.

Today marks exactly 12 years since I’ve set my alarm to awaken to the morning news.

(Ned is a syndicated columnist for News Media Corporation. You can write to him at nhickson@thesiuslawnews.com, or at Siuslaw News, P.O. Box 10, Florence, Ore. 97439)

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46 thoughts on “Seven more minutes of childhood; a father’s wish for his daughter the morning of 9-11

    • I guess I thought about it the same way I thought about having “The Talk.” I wanted it to come from me, before she got to school and heard it from somewhere else. And just like having “The Talk,” it came way too quickly.

  1. Amazing how an intangible moment becomes inexplicably attached to a tangible object, and avoiding that thing translates to avoiding the unconnected consequences. I was in class studying Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice. I’ve never read that story again, and I highly doubt I ever will. It’s like never touching that book again means I never have to hear the news of terror of this caliber on American soil, which is ridiculous, and not.

    • I think we’ve pretty much done the same as a country; there’s hardly any acknowledgement of this day anymore, as if not talking about it or reminding ourselves about what happened will make it go away. We slapped the monicker “Patriots Day” on it to soften the blow, but that’s not much different than changing “Pearl Harbor Day” to “Pineapple Awareness Day.” The meaning has been lost, on purpose I think. Maybe because I’m a firefighter, I just have stronger feelings about it. I just know it doesn’t feel like we give the day the acknowledgement it deserves anymore.

      • Calling it Patriot Day kind of creeps me out because of the whole Patriot Act.
        We don’t give it the acknowledgement it deserves. I don’t know how we can, other than, for once, one day, close every business everywhere and let people be home with their family. Or maybe lower the flags. Or stop making it about what city hosts the best memorial.

        • I’ve thought about that very thing many times; it should be “Remembrance Day,” a day when we remember those who died, but also what it means to come together as families, citizens and Americans to share in a common experience. Just for one day every year. I don’t think it’s too much to ask the wheels of commercialism to grind to a halt once a year, just as it did that day, and remind ourselves about what’s really important.

          • Call me a cynic, because I am, as much as I like this idea, and say it to people, I’m afraid it would turn into another Memorial Day, 4th of July, or Labor Day–an excuse to through a BBQ party with the local supermarket open in case someone forgets the hot dog buns.

            • Hahaha. I know exactly what you’re saying. I think the one chance we’d have of making it more than an excuse to party is because it is something that “belongs” to our generation — something that’s still relatively fresh in our minds and emotions. The other holidays — as important as they are to observe — are products of conditioning. A day like this, introduced now, would be a matter of choice. At least until Hallmark and Oscar Mayer get ahold of it…

    • Thanks for remembering with me. It feels like acknowledgment of this day has faded, like by NOT remembering, it will go away. Maybe it’s just because I’m a firefighter, but “Patriots Day” just doesn’t sit well with me. It was so much more than that.

      • I think that when so many people are feeling the same emotions at the same time, that those feelings are magnified exponentially and it creates a bond between us that is exceptionally strong. So many people are afraid of staying there, in that mental zone of intense feelings and remembering the moment of connection because we are forced to be solitary people in so many ways, just to get through the struggles of our own lives. We internalize.

        But on this day we could not. On this day millions of people STOPPED. We physically stopped and mentally stopped and existed in the moment. Everyone had to find their own way past that day. Some people withdrew, some were angry and lashed out, some became advocates and volunteers; everyone handling their emotional response to a day that was beyond emotional, beyond spiritual. It was like you could feel the slamming of souls being released into the world, people who met violent deaths. You could feel the anguish of their hearts stopping as they lost their lives and you could feel the screams of the people in your own soul, of those who loved them as their connections were torn apart.

        We do not have a word in human language to express the level of sadness and despair I felt that day coming from not only myself but in the very air you were breathing. I felt an emotional and spiritual submersion into despair, pain, agony and the blackest fear that was impossible to speak about. It took your breath away. I don’t think the acknowledgement has faded of what happened, but I do think that live has moved on and we do what we do best as humans, we adjusted to the new reality our lives became that day.

        • Your description of “slamming souls” couldn’t be more apt. It really WAS like you could feel the sorrow and sense of disbelief in the very air you breathed that morning. And while it’s true that people were fragmented in the sense of how each of us dealt with what we were experiencing, there was a definite sense of unification through that horrific shared a experience. We became a more patient, understanding people for a while because we had a common language — not so much in words, but emotion.

          I suppose what you say is true about us moving on by stepping into our “new reality.” I just feel like the truly important lessons of that day — connection, patience and empathy among them — didn’t fully make the transition into this new reality. At least, not to the degree I had expected or hoped.

  2. Very moving piece. I remember stopping the car and pulling over when I heard it on the radio (I’m East Coast….not an early riser!), just being overwhelmed with the “bigness” of what was happening. I told my kids (9, 6, and 5 at the time) our lives would be forever changed. The American trajectory, whatever that would have been, good or bad, was no longer the one we were on. Of course I had no way of knowing at the time what that would mean, only that our future would now be taking a different road and possibly or probably NOT end in the same place we would have landed absent the attacks. Do you mind if I share this on my personal Facebook page?

    • I completely understand and agree with your sentiment. Without a doubt, that day changed us in the same way as the Kennedy assassination did; it changed the way we think about ourselves and we lost a certain innocence that I regret. My children changed, too. They are more cynical and less quick to assume the best in the situation. We are definitely in a different place as a country because of that moment.

      And yes, please feel free to share this post — I would be honored.

  3. I’ll never forget. But from a parent’s point of view, the tension increased to beyond unbearable. We lived in a major target zone, too many military bases on our doorstep, preparing to defend while parents tried to get their kids home with them. It’s a parent’s worst nightmare when you can’t get to your child while our country is under attack and you don’t know what’s coming next or where it will be. I completely relate. Wouldn’t it be nice if the snooze button would have worked that time?

    Shelli

    • I am so thankful I had my daughter with me that morning, for so many reasons. I can only imagine how I would have felt if she had been at school already. We live in a small town, so there was no real danger, but it doesn’t matter — you want your child with you in a moment like that. I’m so sorry you had to experience that kind of fear as a parent.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and offering that perspective, Shelli.

  4. From across the border I sat and watched the horrible story unfold, and for days after was glued to the television. Such a senseless tragedy to have to explain to anyone. I take this day to think of all the people I hold close in my heart. I hope you’re okay with being one of those people.

  5. My friend and I were having a conversation at work and our boss stuck his head in the door saying “A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center.” We were completely dismissive of his announcement, due to his alarmist personality, then we saw the TV. I remember calling everyone I loved just to hear them speak.
    It is odd to me that there are children alive today who have never known a world in which terrorism was not an immediate threat. Americans in my generation were lucky, almost all of their lives, until 9/11.

  6. this is beautiful and sad and heartfelt, knowing in that instant your daughter’s world would never be the same. i was teaching when it happened and felt the same, not knowing exactly what to do or say, some parents came to school, some children stayed, locked in, and we just held each other close and talked and shared each other’s company as we waited for time to pass. hoping. thank you for your service and for all the others who risk their lives on behalf of others. – peace, beth

  7. I was notified by teacher next door and turned on classroom TV just in time to see second plane hit. My class just chattered and chattered away louder and louder and I could hear little. They just ignored my reprimands and paid no attention as if it were a movie or something. Soon the assistant principal came by and demanded I turn off the TV “because you are supposed to be teaching a lesson”. Can you imagine this absolute stupidity ?!

    • Sadly, yes… I can imagine. Even then, before iPods and such, we were already entering the age of disassociation. Ironic how, as a teacher, your opportunity to bring your students together in a teachable moment was squelched.

  8. It is hard to read or think about 9/11 and children are the worst victims in this crime! I feel sad for the ones who watched the t.v. coverage and lost their innocence, I feel sad for the ones whose family member was killed or injured in it and lastly, for everyone. We all lost so much in this and hope that we can avoid this but we seem to always step in, may have more deaths sometime soon!

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