Recollections are unavoidable a decade after that frozen-in-memory day when our sense of security as a nation was forever ruined. The surreal understanding that America was attacked on our own soil--using hijacked airplanes filled with commercial passengers--shocked observers of those horrific events. No one will forget his place or state of mind when he found out.
Because we live on the west coast, I was the one who had to inform our children as I awakened them for school. Most concerning was the impact on our youngest, then a third-grader.
I told him our nation was attacked in New York, and that many people had died. He started to cry, and I cried with him, holding him tightly.
He immediately wanted to arise to fight and kill the aggressors. He wanted to defend and protect our land. Realizing he couldn't act on that desire, and feeling an urgent need to make a difference, he asked what he could do.
I suggested he take on a mitzvah, a Jewish observance. The recognition was that God is involved in human affairs; just as He notes the evil in the attack on America, He acknowledges the good in the effort to draw closer.
My son had always worn a kipa, a head covering, every day to his public school. And he was regularly teased for it. Frequently, mean-spirited classmates would grab his rather large, colorfully-embroidered yarmulke off his head, toss it from one to the next or run away as my frustrated son attempted to retrieve it. He was different, and while I'd always felt it was character-building to cope with one's individuality, he always felt picked-on.
But he was willing to accept even more teasing, if it would redress or somehow cosmically balance the enormous loss of that September day. So, despite inconvenience, he began to wear tsit-tsit, a four-cornered undershirt with knotted cords.
Predictably, his classmates mercilessly jibed him for his "strings," which tended to pull out of their place under his shirt and tucked into his pants. But he continued to wear them, throughout his years in elementary and middle school, when children were most cruel.
That was what a nine-year-old boy could do, as a response to 9-11. Yes, we talked, cried, donated money, put a flag on our car and in front of our house. But my son also took on something that caused him personal sacrifice, and that related to an idea larger than his own comprehension of or emotions concerning our nation's wound.
I wish I could say that at 19, he still wears tsit-tsit every day. But I do see him earnestly grappling with his relationship to God, and attempting to consider others' feelings in everyday interactions. We Americans can never reconcile ourselves to the loss of life ten years ago, nor to the loss of blithe confidence in the goodness of the world. But I am still impressed that on that traumatic day, my sheltered son was willing to fight the bad guys who perpetrated the attack, and stand up to the mean guys who would belittle his appeal to God.