And I remember that morning well, as pretty much any of us who were alive at the time - for me, a fellow church staff's heads-up that something was going on, a click-on of the television in my office just in time to see the second plane hit.
For me, that seminal moment in our country's history will forever remain etched on my brain, no doubt. And I continue to remember in prayer the lives lost and the families and friends left behind.
But for me, it is not this day fourteen years ago that I remember the most. It's thirteen years ago. Because this is what I was doing that day....
And I was terrified, absolutely terrified. And not the usual first-time parent terrified stuff - am I holding him right, do I know how to change a diaper, will I survive the lack of sleep, will I raise him right, will I be a good Dad, how in the hell will I pay for college, all that stuff. Being a parent is still the scariest thing you'll ever do in life.
No, this terror was more than that.
It was the terror of bringing a child into this kind of world - a world where grown men make plans over years and hijack planes and fly them into buildings and kill thousands. A world where this sort of thing happens everywhere else, not here; except now it happened here, right in our backyard, and somehow that makes it all the worse. It was that kind of world I was minutes away from introducing my child to, and it scared the crap out of me.
You can't see it in the picture, but on the wall opposite where I was sitting was a TV. And it was turned to a channel that was showing the ceremonies commemorating the one-year anniversary of 9-11. Which could have been any channel, really, because they were all showing it. It was so raw back then, the pain. Ground Zero was still recovering; the hole in the ground still wide open like a chasm swallowing all hope. I watched the ceremony while my wife packed our things on the other side of the bed. Watched every bit of it with my two-day old son asleep in my arms. Thinking to myself, dear God, what kind of crazy person brings a child into this mess?
I remember a late-night conversation eleven months earlier when my wife and I asked that very thing. The summer before, we decided it was time to start the family we'd been dreaming of. And then that beautiful September morning and those damn planes. And we found ourselves asking - what kind of crazy person brings a child into this mess? Thank God we came to our senses and understood the truth - that if there ever were a perfect time to have a child, it was now. Because if we decided it wasn't, then they would've already won. The most effective and lasting counter to evil is love, because love is always greater than fear. And here: love in the form of a newborn child. New life. New hope.
That child I'm holding in the picture above became a teenager two days ago. A teenager. A teenager. He played it cool as teenagers tend to do. Do you feel any different, son? ...........Uh, no. The birthday card from his mother and me confirmed the gifts he'd asked for: earrings (nondescript studs, his mother and I dictated) and tickets to his favorite screamo band in concert next month. Lucky Dad gets to tag along and wear earplugs. Later on that night, a family dinner at his favorite Mexican restaurant. Queso to go with the chips. Congrats on being a teenager, I tell him as I stuff a cheese-soaked chip in my mouth. My birthday advice to you as you enter teendom: don't do anything stupid. And remember that love is greater than fear.
That son of mine is a sign of hope for me. On the morning that our country's deepest wound was opened afresh, we brought him home from the hospital. On the morning a nation cried out in fear - a fear that's still running rampant today - we defied it all. We shoved it back in their faces. Look at this, we dared to say. This is our child. He is love. He is our love. He is hope. There is always hope.
I will forever mourn the loss of life and the loss of a country's innocence. But I will also be thankful, ever thankful, for hope and for love. And for my sons - who will always, for me, embody both.