I had just started my junior year of college when 9/11 happened. I will never forget where I was, who told me about the planes, and how utterly shocked I felt. The days following 9/11 are now a blur to me. I can’t remember what I did, how I coped, or who I even spoke to about it. What I can remember is this feeling I felt that I wasn’t able to describe at the time. I could feel it. It felt big. It felt unbearable. At times, it swallowed me up. But I wasn’t able to pinpoint it. I could not define it. Over time, the feeling lessened until eventually I felt like I could breathe again. Occasionally I would be reminded of the feeling, often on the anniversary of 9/11 or when another tragedy occurred, but I never actually felt that particular feeling again.
Fast forward 16 years to Monday morning. My day started with a dance party with my (almost!) six-year-old daughter. The two of us danced and sang all over our condo. I twirled her until she was dizzy in our living room. She sang at the top of her lungs and I danced in the kitchen as I prepared her school snack for the day. It was one of those perfect mornings. It was full of joy and laughter. We were all smiles as we headed out the door and to the bus stop. I hugged her tight when the bus arrived and told her to keep that happiness with her all day. My daughter turned to me, her face lit up with a huge smile, and said, “have a happy heart today, Mama.”
I practically bounced to my car to start my own day. My heart was so full. I turned on my car, still smiling to myself about our impromptu morning performance, and automatically turned my radio volume up. I was ready to blast some Beyoncé, grab an iced tea, and greet the day. Instead, the day greeted me, in a major way. In fact, it smacked me in the face.
In my euphoric state the date and significance of the day had completely slipped my mind. Every radio station was talking about 9/11. I immediately crumbled. The contrast of the joyful way my day started to the harsh reminder of our reality was unbearable. In that moment, I was destroyed. And that feeling, the one I hadn’t felt in 16 years, came flooding back.
The feeling is a combination of desperation, anguish, and mournfulness. I recognize now that I was mourning all of those years ago not only for those who suffered the pain of losing a loved one, but also for my own child, one who wasn’t even a thought in my head yet. I was mourning the loss of a world that I believed in wholeheartedly. I was in anguish over bringing a child into this world. And I was desperate to never feel that way again.
The world my daughter is growing up in is an unkind world. It is full of hostility, conflict, and contention. It lacks compassion, acceptance, and peace. All of the things that I strive every day to show my little girl. And I feel helpless. My heart aches. I cannot change the world. I cannot give her the carefree, lighthearted, spirited childhood she deserves. It doesn’t exist anymore. But what I can do, is put all of my energy and heart into those early morning dance parties. And I will. For her. For me. For this world.