On September 13, 2001, I stood among the thousands gathered on the Rhode Island State House lawn for a vigil in honor of the 9/11 dead and missing. My 20-month old was on my back in a carrier, flags stuck in its straps.
“Look,” he said, pointing skyward. I looked up to see a plane passing overhead, a foreign sight in the days immediately after the attacks.
“Is that plane going to crash into a building, too?” Sam asked.
“No,” I told him, my heart breaking. “That’s never going to happen again.” Of course, it was a promise I couldn’t keep, but I made it nonetheless.
In the hours after the planes hit the Twin Towers, Samuel watched the video of the crash over and over again.
The collapse, the devastation, the people crying and holding missing persons flyers—his bright, quick little three-year-old mind took it all in.
We should have turned it off, but we were scared, confused, and hungry for news and information. In the end, my husband and I knew he saw too much.
It’s strange, then, that I wanted him to see more.
Three months later, I visited Ground Zero for work. I stood on the viewing platform next to a grieving widow who had lost her husband, a firefighter, in the towers’ collapse. I returned home convinced that my husband, Scott, needed to go, and we decided Sam would join us.
Sam asked questions. We answered them, warmly and honestly. To this day I don’t know if bringing him was the right thing to do.
Samuel is 13 years old now. Mostly, he doesn’t remember the trip except for one small detail: “Remember when I asked the cabbie if he wanted my candy?”
I do remember. We were in a taxi headed back to midtown when Sam pushed his paper bag of gummies through the open hole in the divider. “Do you want to share,” he’d said, “They’re really good.”
Maybe this is why I needed him there. Even in the face of a generation-defining tragedy, it’s the small acts of kindness that help us to believe in humanity.