By Jill Pertler
"When is 9/11?"
The question comes from my youngest son. I tell him the day is next Sunday. The answer isn't what he's looking for.
"When was the first one?" he asks.
I know what he's getting at: When did the date September 11 become the number 9/11 with connotations more far-reaching than any of us could fathom?
"It was before you were born," I say, remembering my protruding belly that morning as I watched the early news and witnessed hijacked planes fly through the Twin Towers in New York. First one. Then another. A third plane crashed into the Pentagon and a fourth intended for a target in Washington D.C. went down in a field in Pennsylvania.
Chances are like me you remember exactly where you were the morning of September 11, 2001. We do because 9/11 took us to places we never envisioned going. Things like that stick with you, not necessarily in a good way.
I was in my kitchen, very pregnant, wiping toast crumbs from the table. When the first plane hit, I assumed it was a mistake pilot error. Had to be. It didn't dawn on me that someone anyone would go to such extreme measures to hurt the people of the United States. It was beyond my imagination to comprehend that kind of hate.
My reality changed that day. I dropped the damp dishcloth I'd been holding and stared at the TV in disbelief. As the truth set in, I was overcome with the essence of being an American. For perhaps the first time in my life, I understood what that meant to the core. As I watched, glued to the news reporter's every word, my unborn son wriggled and kicked while the Twin Towers toppled. I stood in my kitchen, observing the tragedy from far away, unable to do anything except pray and hold onto the optimism that comes with new life.
It's been 10 years since the "first" 9/11. Much is being done to commemorate the occasion. There are important and influential people providing insight about the events. There are exhibitions and presentations. Politicians will give eloquent and articulate speeches. TV specials will air. Artifacts will be displayed. Children who lost their parents will speak from the heart. Firefighters will provide firsthand viewpoints. We have much to learn and remember.
When I first considered writing about the 9/11 anniversary, doubt crept in. I am an insignificant bystander watching from a thousand miles away. What could I possibly say that others more prominent and better connected haven't already expressed in an intelligent manner vastly superior to anything I could ever hope for?
Then it dawned on me: The truth about why the tragedy of 9/11 will not be forgotten and why someone like little old me can have a voice in the aftermath speaks to the greatness of our country. The United States is not built on bricks and mortar, but on individuals. I may not have power or prestige, but I do have a pen and paper as well as the freedom to use them. That seemingly minor fact is not minor at all.
The real loss of 9/11 wasn't about the Twin Towers, crashed jet airplanes or the material goods destroyed. It wasn't about things. It was about people the individual losses endured by mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, children, friends and families during and after September 11, 2001. Those good people who will never be replaced provide me the freedom to speak out, because they died for what gives our country meaning: its individuals.
I may not be a celebrity. I may not be rich or influential, but I do matter. We all do. In the United States, each of us is significant. Terrorists tried to steal that from us on 9/11, but they failed.
My son asks about 9/11, a date that happened before he was born. I answer him with the truth as best I can at the level he is at because it is important he learns and remembers, so he can pass the knowledge onto those after us. And so on.
My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone who was touched by the tragedy and violence of September 11, 2001. This column is dedicated to and in honor of each of you.
Jill Pertler, award-winning syndicated columnist and author of "The Do-It-Yourselfer's Guide to Self-Syndication" is collecting fans on Facebook on her Slices of Life page.Email her firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit her website atmarketing-by-design.home.mchsi.com/.