Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Mother's Prayer: 10 Years Later

A letter written to my children September 11, 2011

Dear Kelsey and Kyle, 

Ten years ago today, I stood in my small family room in a brick ranch in Paris, Ky., watching on a 25-inch RCA as Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings tried to decipher why our planes were flying into buildings. I witnessed not only buildings crumble that day, but a nation. Some will argue the red, white and blue never flinched, but believe me, children, we were on our knees -- in shock, disbelief, fear and prayer. It was a punch to our collective gut, a robbing of innocence, a shattering of security, a faltering of faith.

I was in denial. We all were. After all, I had been a child of the Cold War days -- of America trumps Russia in everything from cheesy Rocky Balboa movie plots to Olympic hockey (U-S-A! U-S-A!), but those nuclear holocaust fears were behind us. The Berlin Wall had crumbled 12 years earlier, and freedom, peace and prosperity reigned in 2001. The American way was the way. We were the super power of the world. Liberty and justice for all!

So how could this be happening to us? Who would want to hurt us? That's what the world asked that dark day. And that's what I attempted to answer when I sat at my computer that night and wrote A Mother's Prayer to four-year-old Kelsey. I did not yet know how history books would respond to Sept. 11, 2001. I wanted you, my children, to know how I felt that terrible, terrible day.

For even in my deepest, darkest fear that night, I still believed we, as a nation, would rise from the ashes.

And we began to do exactly that. We reached out to each other in those next days and weeks. Regardless of political and religious differences, we held out hands to our neighbors, clasping tightly to our fundamental faith in our great country. We helped each other up to wobbly knees. United we would stand.

Ten years later, I re-read A Mother's Prayer with a heavy heart.

Today, a few blocks from where we live now, a young, brave soldier will be laid to rest.

Army Private First Class Brandon Scott Mullins, 21, from Owensboro, Ky., died Aug. 25 in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device. His funeral is today, on this somber national anniversary. I did not know Brandon, but I have heard that he was a great young man, who was proud to serve his country and planned to re-enlist. Regardless of how any of us feel about the war or what side of the aisle we stand on, we owe Brandon our deepest gratitude for his service and sacrifice.

While Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind of the attacks that fateful day, has finally been killed, the war rages on, at such a costly price. I would give anything if it weren't so. I wish we could turn on the news and not see that another brave solider has died in a desert or mountain pass far from home. I wish we could hop on airplanes without fears and invasive searches. I wish we did not have to fear the worst when a backpack is left unattended in a public place. I wish we did not look have to look over our shoulders.

I wish Sept. 11 was just another day.

I cannot make that so for you. But I wonder, dear children, if there are things we can do.

I often bemoan that we somehow lost that spirit of unity and determination that bonded us in our collective grief 10 years ago. We were not red states or blue states in the weeks that followed the attacks. We were the United States.

Please do not misunderstand. I do not want us to become a country of sheep or lemmings, who are herded into only one belief and lead off the proverbial cliff. Questioning our leaders is healthy, as is the system of checks and balances our forefathers were wise enough to institute.

But a decade after that horrible day, we are a divided nation. I am not questioning anyone's patriotism or love of country. I still feel a surge of pride when I hear the national anthem, and I am sure my neighbor -- though he votes differently -- does, too.  If we were attacked again, we would all do whatever it took to fight back. I believe that.

What I hope for you, Kelsey and Kyle, is that you do not have to grow up in a country that has to be attacked to stand strong.

Our country is hurting. Our politicians might not want to phrase it that way, lest someone doubt their faith in America, but I do not think we can deny our troubles. Yes, we are still a strong and mighty nation, but we also are a country wounded by war, serious economic woes and deep political division.

Perhaps it is time we stop pointing fingers at each other, and in remembrance of Sept. 11 and the many lives lost and forever altered that day, turn those fingers on ourselves. What can I do to build a better America? How can I help my neighbor? How can I help my country? We have overcome wars and depression. If we work together, what can we not accomplish, America?

Fifty years ago, in his inaugural speech, President John F. Kennedy Jr., said the following:

"So let us begin anew -- remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.

Let us both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us."

Granted, he was speaking of our enemies across the world. But can we not apply these same wise words to each other today? Someone is not my enemy if he or she is registered with another political party. That person is my  fellow citizen, the brother or sister I reached out to 10 years ago, when our fears were powerful and palpable -- but ultimately -- our faith was stronger.

Dear children, you are the most precious resources our country has. I do not want to be selfish and think about what Band-aid America can put on its wounds today. I want to heal those wounds for your tomorrow. I hope and pray you will grow up -- and grow strong -- in a country that recovers from Sept. 11, 2001. In a spirit of unity and cooperation, we can outshine that dark day.

President Ronald Reagan once said, "The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave."

For your sake, my beautiful, hopeful children, may we bravely go forward.


[Reprint of A Mother's Prayer]

There have been a few moments in my life when the emotions have been so strong, so overwhelming, that I shrugged off my cloak of daily writing insecurities and immediately - without procrastinating, censoring or editing - attempted to capture my feelings on paper.

I wrote letters to my children the moment I learned of them; I wrote tributes to my grandparents when I lost them; and I wrote this, a letter to my then four-year-old daughter, when her world forever changed on a terrible day in September.

Some of you have read it before, but I have never posted it from the Porch. I hope we all remember how we felt that September day. How we grieved, hoped, prayed and vowed collectively. How we shrugged off the cloaks of labels, denominations and red and blue. How that dark night, we were simply mothers, holding our babies, praying the world they grew up in would be a peaceful one.

A Mother's Prayer: A letter written to my daughter Kelsey on the eve of September 11, 2001

As I tucked you into bed this eve
I wondered how the sheets--thin, flimsy, transparent--would protect you.
Would the blanket, soft from so many washings,
The teddy worn, dingy, tattered,
Be enough this night?

I arrived at your school early today.

You were laughing on the playground
Beneath a cloudless sky
Not a single vapor trail tarnishing the sheath of blue.
As I watched you swing, jump, slide through the morn
So unaware,
I realized the promise the day might have held.

A day of baseball games, recess tag and lawn mowers
Windows rolled down and sleeves rolled up,
Not quite summer, not yet fall.

Instead, it was a day of odd, quiet chaos
As the frightened lined up for gasoline
And bought ground beef, canned goods, milk, bread, and bottled water.
Searching for reassurance, people crowded into the cinder-block ice-cream stand
To hear the president
And mumbled "bomb the sonsofbitches" or
"God bless us all."

It was a day of cell phone calls,
Open churches,
And closed businesses.

I held your small hand and lead you through parking lots,
And I was ashamed that you completely trusted me
For I am not the person I was when I went to bed last.

 I witnessed too much this day
And my eyes are stamped with images of
Thick black smoke
And ash.

I run my fingers through my hair continuously,
As if the dust, miles away, somehow reached me.
And old woman nodded at me today, her eyes haunted by another time.
"You haven't seen this before," is all she said.

I called my mom, my mother-in-law,
My sister, my brother,
Again and again,
As if we could make ourselves believe
The unbelievable.

While carrying in groceries,
Your father and I had stopped
Dropped bags and held each other tight.
We ate frozen pizza for supper,
Not saying a word as the TV blared.

Later I caught you peeking at the screen,
And I drew you onto my lap, kissed your head
And tried to explain what I still can't comprehend.
I promised you the world is good,
You are loved.
You are safe.

I nestled beside you in bed,
Clasping your hand, warm and moist from the tub.
I breathed your smell of soap and toothpaste.
I sang your lullaby.

We prayed.

I told you America is strong and right, mighty and free.
As you drifted away, I pictured America's mothers.

We are blacktop roads, shotgun houses, and Spanish tile.
Marble, loose shingles, and Bradford pears.
Gated communities, brick ranches, and trailers.
Three bedrooms and two baths.
Geraniums, roses, and dandelions.
Linoleum and sidewalks.
Mortar and stone.
Sand, salt, and dirt.

Tonight as One,
We held our children closer.
We crept into your rooms many times
As if you were babies,
Fragile and new.

We touched your cheeks and felt your breath on our hands,
Warm reminder of life.
We looked through the window at the darkest night
Anxious for the sun to shine on us again,
Silently weeping for the innocent lost
And lost innocence.