By In Stuff

A Small Story

When we went to pick up our oldest daughter from school, she was crying. This is not a common thing, but it’s not entirely uncommon either. I’d say it happens maybe once or twice a school year. Someone was mean to her. She forgot a key assignment. She got into a little trouble with a teacher. Mostly, really, it’s because someone was mean to her.
“What’s wrong, Elizabeth?” we asked.
“I’ll tell you in the car,” she said.
Again … not common, but not entirely uncommon. One time, a friend ignored her. Another time, two friends ignored her. It’s not something she can talk about outside the car. We came up with the code phrase for it. “Girl drama?” I would ask. “Girl drama,” she would confirm. She’s always been the sensitive one, that Elizabeth. It is what makes her intensely caring of others. It is also what makes her cry sometimes.
“Was someone mean to you?” we asked her. She looked up with a blank look.
“No,” she said. This is what she always says. The first answer is always, “No.” The second is usually, “I don’t want to talk about it.” The third, maybe, if it’s a good day, begins to scratch at the truth.
“Are you sure?” we asked.
“No,” she said. “Everybody was nice to me. It has nothing to do with that.”
OK, so it has to do with school. “Did you have a test today?”
“No,” she said again, and then she said this: “It’s just so sad!” And for the first time it occurred to us that she was not crying for any of the usual reasons.
“What’s sad?” we asked, but she was now sobbing softly. We had to wait for her to work through it. And then finally she said this: “The flight attendant.”
“What flight attendant?”
‘We heard a recording of the flight attendant,” Elizabeth said. “We heard the call she made. She said, 
I’ll be home soon.’ And then she died. They all died.” And she started to sob again, only now we realized that this was something different, something that we had not expected.
Elizabeth was 12 days old when 9/11 happened. She was in her crib, sleeping soundly, when the first plane hit the building. I was holding her when the second plane hit. She was 12 days old, our first child, and we watched the smoke float from the towers, and then we watched them crumble, and we called friends just to hear their voices and nothing at all made much sense. Elizabeth was 12 days old. We were all so much younger. We simply could not see her grown up. 
Elizabeth is 12 years old now.
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21 Responses to A Small Story

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Beautiful AND heartbreaking, I should say.

  3. Joseph Finn says:

    That seems an odd choice for teaching US history…

    • It’s the only way to teach history. Anyone who wasn’t cognizant on 9/11/01 needs a way to connect to the horror.

      2,977 deaths is a statistic. One death is a tragedy.

      It’s same reason that hearing millions dead in concentration camps is less effective to teach children than reading Anne Frank’s diary … THEN realizing that her story was just one clearly documented one of millions of stories and people who are lost forever.

    • Mark says:

      Well said, Rhap. Well said.

    • Mike says:

      “Anyone who wasn’t cognizant on 9/11/01 needs a way to connect to the horror”

      I’ll admit I’m playing a bit of Devil’s Advocate . . . but not that much. So my question is WHY do those who were not cognizant on 9/11/01 need to, as you say it, “connect to the horror.” And keep in mind, by “not cognizant,” you’re obviously referring to children. A few questions:

      1. Why would you want children to connect to any horror?

      2. Why would you want them to connect to horror in concerning something they cannot control? In other words, MAYBE you want them to connect to horror concerning things kids shouldn’t do (accept rides from strangers?), or not do something they should do (look both ways before crossing the street). But for the equivalent of a lightning strike, or madman gunning down a classroom full of children? Why?

      3. I wonder why we, as a nation, feel the need not only to perpetually mourn that day, but also to essentially commemorate a lunatic moment accomplished by 20 guys who committed suicide.

      I think we should all relegate the moment to what it was — a very tragic, but ultimately insignificant moment, historically. And as for children, leave them alone. I knew what Pearl Harbor was growing up, but it was NEVER an invitation to “connect to the horror” of the poor boys on the USS Oklahoma, Arizona, Pennsylvania, etc.

      ***And for what it’s worth, before anyone strikes out at me, I lived in NY when 9/11 happened, and worked a few blocks away. I work across the street from Ground Zero today. I walked to a medical center that morning to donate blood, only to find there was no need. I saw the first “missing” signs go up only hours after the towers fell. I FELT the horror of that moment. But it was just a moment, and that moment was 12 years ago. We need to move on, and connecting to the horror is the opposite of that.***

    • LargeBill says:


      You’re right and you’re wrong. I could type several paragraphs addressing both sides of attacking you and supporting some element of your stance. That is a conversation that isn’t best handled over the internet. If I knew ya we could meet for coffee and discuss. However, I’ll just end this by saying while I think we should never forget, in time the yearly remembrances will be tempered. Thing is people who lost loved ones or lost co-workers, etc will not be receptive to hearing “move on, get over it.” People will move on (sort of) but on their own schedule. I understand your comparison to Pearl Harbor, but it isn’t a perfect comparison. The men killed at Pearl were in the military and while we weren’t yet at war it was understood that tensions were high around the world. The victims of both cowardly attacks were caught unaware. The US population after Pearl was plunged into a world wide conflict that lasted several years and cost hundreds of thousands of lives. The men lost at Pearl in a way were just included as part of the overall loss of life in WWII. We do still hold a remembrance at Pearl every year on December 7th.

    • Ozsportsdude says:

      Spot on Rhap, with holocaust, battle of Somme, Juno Beach, Vietnam etc u dont focus on the millions or thousands, u focus on the one to truly understand the horror/tragedy

    • zeke bob says:

      “I think we should all relegate the moment to what it was — a very tragic, but ultimately insignificant moment, historically.”

      This is incredibly off base. Where do you think a lot of the current security environment in the U.S. stems from? Why do we still have troops in Afghanistan? Why are people concerned about possible NSA overreaches?

      It stems from our reactions to this VERY significant historical moment. I don’t know whether or not you want children to feel an emotional connection to history – I would think that depends on the individual child as much as anything – but I do think it’s important to try and pass on the significance of historical events to children such as the Berlin Wall falling or the JFK assassination. Sure, neither of those have as much effect on a modern American child as 9/11 does but they are still important moments to review in history.

    • Mike says:

      Large Bill – Legitimate points, and thanks for the thoughtful response. And for what it’s worth, we sorta do know each other. We were both fairly regular commenters back at Baseball Crank’s blog back in the ’05-08 time period. We tended to disagree about pretty much everything back then, but managed to do do in a non-trollish way. Nice to see done things stay the same! 😉

    • Mike says:

      Some. Not done. Damn autocorrect.

      And Zeke Bob, I think you’re making my point for me. The fact that we’ve taken an event that’s basically a writ-large version of a movie theater shooting or pile up on the interstate and turned it into something geopolitically important is THE PROBLEM. The fact that the event is the cause (and causes belli) for our involvement in Afghanistan is THE PROBLEM. The existence of the security environment is, in and of itself, a huge problem.

      Moreover, I don’t suggest that we forget about historically significant events. We should not, under any circumstances. But remembering, reflecting, and learning from an event are not the same as connecting to the horror of an event.

    • invitro says:


      1. One possibility: it may be the best way to get them to understand the mourning that many adults do on 9/11. Or perhaps it may encourage them to fight against future horrors when they are adults.

      2. Same answers as to #1.

      3. Well, it was a very large loss of civilian life within ~2 hours. Is it the largest loss of civilian life in the US in that time span? I can’t think this morning… I can’t decide if it was possible that it happened in the Civil War. Anyway, I think those who choose to perpetually mourn have a good reason.

      I don’t understand why you feel it was “historically insignificant”. I believe the event was enormously significant in US history (is there any doubt?), and very significant in the history of the world.

      Anyway… my devil’s advocating is that this horror seems not as great as the horror of being drafted to go to Vietnam, or to the horror of the German or Soviet concentration camps, or to Mao’s Cultural Revolution or Great Leap Forward, or to the killing fields in Cambodia, or the Civil War, or WWII, or WWI, or many other things that previous generations of 12yos may have encountered. I mean, which would be easier for a 12-year-old to understand, or to explain to a 12yo? My point is that I think today’s 12yos (and their parents) seem to have it much easier in this regard than those of many previous generations.

    • Ben Wildner says:

      I’ll back you on that invitro. As little kids my classmates and I found out there were lunatics out there who wanted to kill us and were surprisingly good at it. Our parents half expected the world to end in nuclear fire. Our Grandparents grew up in the depression then went to war or saw their older siblings go to war. Some came back. The generation before that nearly got taken out by the Spanish Flu then had WWI and the depression as adults.

      And all that’s in arguably the most peaceful part of the world. Sooner rather than later each generation needs to figure out that humanity swings into horror on a massive scale with surprising ease. Each past generation found a way to overcome and make the world a little better. Perhaps Gen Z will continue only learning that from stories. But if anyone thinks that will be all they ever have to go on I have a bridge in Brooklyn for sale.

  4. I had enlisted in the Marine Corps the day prior, talk about a shock. Now there are guys going through boot camp who were 6 years old on 9/11/01…

    • LargeBill says:


      Thanks you for your service. Time marches on. I don’t feel old, but I had a WHAT THE HELL?! moment first time we had new guys check in who were born after I enlisted.

  5. Crazy. We were just talking at dinner tonight about how a 12 year old child would have no memory of that day. You kind of just told the 2nd half of that story – when they are capable of comprehending it.

  6. Scott Lucas says:

    It’s important to remember what happened, as the effects have been hugely significant. It is the seminal event of the decade of the 2000’s. But is it really necessary to make little girls who were infants cry?

  7. Scott Lucas says:

    It’s important to remember what happened, as the effects have been hugely significant. It is the seminal event of the decade of the 2000’s. But is it really necessary to make little girls who were infants cry?

  8. GreenGrocer says:

    Not a small story at all, Joe. I’m 60 years old. I just heard that recording for the first time a couple of days ago, and it disturbed ME! In what proper world would ANY teacher think that playing that recording for 12-year-olds was appropriate? Doing so is somewhere between a really bad idea and child abuse! My vote is totally toward the latter! This is the 12th anniversary of 9/11, and Elizabeth is now 12. When I was 12, the end of the total horror that was WWII was only 20 years ago; the end of the Korean War only 12. The Vietnam debacle was just getting started. Yes, we were taught about WWII and Korea, but just like we were taught about the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and WWI; with a sense of distance and perspective, even in that time frame. The same should be being done here.

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