La La How The Life Goes On

9/11 for the Under 10s

Posted on: September 10, 2011

Humans have wrestled with the ideas–and realities– of good vs. evil since time began. Every existing religious tradition speaks to it in some manner because it speaks to the well- worn question of why bad things happen to good people. In some cases however, such as the holocaust, ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, and 9/11, we are forced to confront not just bad things happening to good people (e.g. diseases or accidents) but the physical manifestation of unmitigated evil. Those of us alive on 9/11/01 still struggle to make sense of such acts, and the confrontation becomes only more complicated to comprehend and explain when young children are involved.

For my girls, 7 and almost 3, the way is clear. Baby Sister will neither hear nor see a single shred of information regarding September 11th. Not this year, not next year, not as long as I can hold it off. Bambina is a different story. Because of the non-stop detail-soaked coverage of the attacks (let’s have another look at the planes hitting the buildings!), I had no choice but to fall back on old campaign tactics and get out in front of the news cycle. Because she WILL see the planes hit the towers on TV. It’s a statistical certainty this weekend.

So I told her that 10 years ago some very evil men killed and injured thousands of people because they want everyone to be just like them, their religion, their laws, their interpretation of a culture. I mentioned that she might see pictures of airplanes and fires on TV but, so importantly, those pictures were not showing anything happening now today. I told her that airplanes and our country are now much more secure, even if by secure I really truthfully mean aware. I told her that she is safe, but that a lot of people died that day and so their loved ones want to remember them this weekend, kind of like how we light a candle and say Kaddish for Bumpa on what would be his birthday. When she said how sad it all sounded I agreed and then immediately told her the story of Flight 93, where the passengers, knowing what was to come, became heroes who saved many, many people even though they themselves lost their lives. To my relief, this is the overwhelming point of interest for her, that some dadas and mamas and uncles and aunties of real people did something so selfless to save others. It resonates, I imagine, because we lived just 3 blocks from the Capitol that would not have existed had the plane reached its target.

Parents often worry that events of this nature will damage their children. I tend to believe that kids can handle any information if it is delivered appropriate to their understanding. Which is why, at age 7, there is every effort to tell her about the day and there is every attempt to limit her access to the gut-wrenching visuals of that day, simply because things cannot be unseen. At the same time, parents often forget that any child enrolled in any institutional environment understands good vs. bad. They understand meanness. They understand cruelty. Children, you may prefer to forget, are beautiful creatures who nonetheless operate at about 80% id. Like adults, they may not be able to understand the whys of meanness and cruelty, but they sure know it when they see it. And that is our opening to discuss events beyond all our capacities to understand.

I so wish I could avoid giving my daughter the knowledge of fear and horror. I so wish that I could protect her and defend her from any person or information that might harm her. I so wish I could keep her as she is today: innocent, confident that all is good in the world, oblivious to the presence and practice of evil in our time. All these things I wish. None of these things are mine to give.

What is mine to give is the understanding that bad people sometimes do bad things we can’t explain, but that in those moments of fear and pain, good people can bring forth good things. They can show courage, they can rush to help, they can comfort the broken, they can stand up to cruelty in all its forms, they can–if necessary–lay down their lives for something greater than themselves, and yes, they can rebuild and move forward stronger than before.

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1 Response to "9/11 for the Under 10s"

Perfect. Thank you.

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