This morning I talked to my son about September 11. I didn't plan to. I was dropping him at school, and turned on the radio in time to catch a poignant Story Corps piece
on the radio by a man who lost two sons, ages 36 and 34, in the attacks.
"It's the anniversary of September eleventh," I said. "You were two years old." His nearest brother was an infant. They are the same number of years apart as the two brothers who died. I wonder if they were as close as my guys, so entwined that I don't know if one could live without the other.
"How did you know about it?"
"Your father called me. He asked me if I had the tv on. You were watching a kids' show, and he told me that two planes had crashed into the towers, and I thought, oh, it's a terrible accident. But then I realized that two planes couldn't be an accident, that something really bad had happened."
He doesn't remember a world where such an event was literally unthinkable. What I remember most vividly about that day is that gaping moment of dissonance, of trying to comprehend something beyond imagination. There was the world before the phone rang. And then there was the world after.
We pulled up to the school entrance, and he sprang out. The newborn whose length barely spanned the distance of his father's forearm comes up to my ears now. His feet are bigger than mine. At every age and stage of my children, I think, oh, I'm going to miss this so much when it passes. But every year just brings something more and better. His mind is catching up to me. I don't have to pre-chew so much of our conversation for him anymore. The other day, we just fell into a discussion about the Great Depression. Not all of our mother-son talks are so dark, but he's old enough to understand that bad times come and go, and that people persevere.
We were watching the second-to-last Harry Potter movie a few months ago, which is plenty dark. During the climactic confrontation between good and evil, he was so completely identified with Harry, he was unconsciously whispering the spells and waving his wrist as if he held a wand. I think certain stories capture the imagination of a generation, not just because they are good stories, but because they are coded instruction for living in that time. Harry Potter may be one of those.
"You're a great wizard, Harry," Hermione says to him in one of the early books.
"You're a great boy," I told my son when the movie was over. He flashed me a goofy, ten-year-old grin. I felt that familiar pang. Oh, I'll miss that so much.
"You're going to be a very great man," I said, softly and seriously.
He crossed his eyes and his tongue flopped out.
And I'm in no great hurry to meet him.
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