It was evening on September Twelfth. I was performing my annual watching of the videos of the 9/11 attacks, trying to remember what it felt like to see it for the first time, trying to remember what it was like when this was not familiar, not an historic tragedy but a recent shock.
Rosie looked over my shoulder.
I’ve told her about the attacks before, but I’ve never let her look at pictures or watch any recordings. Violent images aren’t good for children. But she asked about the smoking building so casually that I said I’d show her some videos from the news, so she could see what it was like.
I found raw video footage from a local reporter and cameraman from New York.
“Tell me if any of this is too scary for you, and I’ll stop,” I said.
I am a Christian. I believe that small things done faithfully no matter how commonplace or terrible the circumstances become are the fulfillment of the Law. I’m also a devotee of Fred Rogers and I remember his injunction that you ought to teach children to “look for the helpers” in any tragedy. I began to show my daughter the helpers, and the people who were faithful to small things.
“Now, this man is a reporter. It’s his job to tell people what’s going on in the world. It’s an important, serious job to warn people about the things that are going on around them so they can be safe and know what’s happening. He looks like he’s annoying people, but he’s doing a very good job as a reporter. He’s getting as close to the towers as he can to show people the news. His cameraman is doing a good job too. You can’t hear or see the cameraman, but he’s the one carrying the camera for the reporter so we can see all this video. This is a policeman. He’s yelling at the reporter to get further away so he’ll be safe. The policeman is doing his job too. It’s his job to keep people out of the dangerous places and to direct traffic so the medics and firefighters can get through. These are the firefighters getting ready to go into the building. Many firefighters risked their lives that day running into the building to get people out, when they could have stayed out of the building and been safe. They couldn’t stop the fire or save everyone. They chose to put themselves in danger and some of them died, but because of them, many people lived who would have died otherwise. They were very brave.”
I skipped past the moments when the camera zoomed in on suffering people leaning out of the top floor windows and other people falling to their deaths. She’ll be old enough to see that someday. When she is I will explain the ethics of jumping from a burning building and that it’s certainly not an act of suicide. I’ll tell her about Father Mychal Judge absolving the victims as they fell, and about his death when the tower collapsed. I will tell her that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more, and the deeper the darkness, the more opportunity for grace. But she’s too young for something so graphic just now.
I did let her watch the moment when the first tower pancaked on itself, raining dust on the steadfast cameraman who wouldn’t look away. The reporter just kept talking, shocked and in terror but being faithful to his job because it was important.I showed her the people fleeing through a darkened building and across a dusty sidewalk. I told her how frightened everyone was and how nobody knew what was happening or what they were breathing in. Then I let her watch most of the interview with a woman who grew increasingly upset as it went on. “I can’t even look at it because all I see are people. I don’t see a building, I see people. People hurt. Children without mothers or fathers tonight.” The woman broke down; the reporter stopped asking questions and hugged her for a time.
“It’s important to know when to stop asking questions and just comfort people,” I told Rose. “That’s another way we can help.”
We watched the ambulances racing by; the medics pouring water on the dusty faces of people fleeing Ground Zero.
“The medics and the ambulance drivers worked constantly to get all the injured people to safety,” I told Rose.
We watched the second tower collapse. The cameraman let his camera fall over and only record feet as he and the reporter ran to find shelter; he picked it up again as the reporter directed several terrified people to take hide from the dust cloud in a parking garage. Rose is a small town child, so I had to explain the concept of a parking garage– a cave built underground where you pay to leave your car for the day. This was the first parking garage she had ever seen.
Then we watched the reporter run out into the street, looking for a medic who could give a hyperventilating woman oxygen. We watched the medic helping her breathe into the mask.
It was time for bed.
Rose snuggled against my arm as I said her prayers. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, amen.
I wish more than anything that I could deliver Rose from every evil that could befall her, but I can’t, and I think she knows that by now. Children find out how helpless their parents are early on.
“That video didn’t scare you, did it?” I asked.
“No,” said Rose.
“It’s okay to tell me when you’re scared.”
“The world can be a bad place and people do terrible things, but the most important thing is to find a way to do good,” I said. “I know you can do this. Like when so-and-so was bullying you and I told you you could just leave her alone, but you kept trying to be friends with her every day. And now you are friends, and you play with her. That’s how we can change the world. You’re a very strong girl, Rose.”
“I don’t lift weights,” said Rose, parroting a line she’d herd sassy Lady Elaine say on a video of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.
“The other kind of strong,” I said.
Faithfulness in small things is the fulfillment of the Law.
But it could be that, in the eyes of Heaven, there are really no small things.
(image via Pixabay)