Friday, September 9, 2011

A Child's Unusual Response to 9-11

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.


  1. our kids are amazing. even the young are profound in their love of country and G-d and family and fellow countrymen.

    you know, when my son was small (3-4 yrs old), he would tell me how much he wanted to hug G-d. how, after we would say our prayers, he would sometimes shed tears telling me that he wanted to hug Jesus and tell him how much he loved him and wanted to tell him so.

    so, one day a thought occurred to me. i said, "myles, come here and you give me a hug" ... which he did. then i said, "that was G-d hugging me." then i said, "now let me give you a hug." so, i gave him a great big bear hug of a squeeze and a kiss on top of his little head.

    i said, "now that was G-d hugging you. sometimes, son, Jesus says that how we love each other is what we do to him." that seemed to make him feel a bit better.

    i told him that "if i, your dadda, love you to the moon and back, just imagine how much more G-d loves you."

    what your son did was indeed a mitzvah. it was a wonderful thing where he was G-d's proxy, his regent in this world ... doing something that meant something on a daily basis. it might have been just for himself, but it was also for "them" ... powerful, life-affirming, life-changing.

    thank you for sharing ...

  2. That such a young child would sacrifice like that, knowing full well he would probably be teased, is quite remarkable. That he continued to do so throughout middle school is even more remarkable...Thank you very much for sharing this story~ it is a truly touching post!