I heard often before we had our first child, “Once your child is born, you’ll never be the same.” After becoming a parent, I would soon learn just how true those words were, for so many reasons. September 11th, 2001, was an example.
Turning on the news in those days and seeing foreign countries bombed was not such a rare sight. We knew it wasn’t good, but if we’re truthful, we really couldn’t relate to what they were going through. It’s not our fault; it’s just if you have not experienced it, how could you truly understand? But on this particular Tuesday morning, that all changed.
I was working in my office preparing for what I anticipated to be a busy day, but not for the reasons it turned out to be. My co-worker across the aisle was a New Yorker who had recently relocated to this area. I was busy on my computer when he stepped into my doorway with a puzzled look on his face. I remember his first words vividly, “A plane just crashed into one of the Twin Towers.” He said his friend had called him from New York to give him the news. At the time, they thought it was a terrible accident. We decided to go over to the conference room next to the company president’s office and ask her if we could turn the television on. This was before cellphones with Internet access were widely available. We told her the news of the terrible accident, and she said, “Of course!”
When we turned on the NBC Today Show, they were just beginning to talk about it. The news was just starting to break across all the channels. As they reported, there was a camera focused on the tower as smoke billowed out several floors from the top. Suddenly, as we were watching, another plane flew into the second tower. Our jaws dropped in unison as we both looked at each other. This was no tragic accident; it was an act of war!
We immediately went over to the president’s office and told her this was something totally different. She hurried into the conference room to see what was happening. We, in turn, told a couple of people walking nearby to let others know. It wasn’t long before the conference room was crowded with co-workers watching the attack unfold. I remember feeling a sense of shock. I couldn’t believe it was real. I had been in Atlanta during the Olympic Bombing and that was the closest thing to how it felt. As the morning unfolded, it would be followed by the attack on the Pentagon and then by those brave souls—passengers who fought and brought down the plane in the field in Pennsylvania, rather than have it hit the Capitol or the White House.
As I watched a few people walk by and pop their heads in, seeing what was happening, and then quickly getting back to work and even asking questions about reports, etc., I couldn’t believe it. They seemed unfazed by it all, as if it was just a typical Tuesday, going about their business. Our company president understood the gravity; thankfully, she was a mother. Soon after, she announced that anyone wanting to leave for the rest of the day could do so. And yet, no one felt comfortable leaving because of how it might appear. The single people appeared okay, but those with children had a different response entirely, especially the mothers.
It was a strange time, and most of us were filled with a strong desire to be with the ones we loved. My pregnant wife called me, having already spoken to our babysitter. She said our son was having a good time playing with the other children in the backyard, not having any idea what had taken place. We both decided that was probably best for him to stay, since he was enjoying himself.
The different responses, though surprising, probably shouldn’t have been all that unexpected. For those without children, it was an event that took place in another state. The implications for the near future were still unclear. But for those of us with children, it felt much different. That’s what being a parent does to you. It’s one of the ways it changes you that you don’t anticipate before you have them. You see the world and what happens in it differently.
That day changed my wife and me in more ways than one. That evening when my son came in from the babysitter’s with a smile on his face, and later when he told me all about his day, I can only remember one thing. The joy I felt to hug him and be in his presence, knowing he was okay. It may sound weird if you don’t have children, but to the parents out there, I think you understand.
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