That day had dawned so beautifully in our little corner of paradise. September in Humboldt County, California, was always beautiful anyway. The chill of summer fog had given way to sunny days and beautiful, clear blue skies over the ocean. Among the stands of redwood trees, beams of light filtered down through the canopy like rays from Heaven itself, turning our forests into little cathedrals everywhere the light touched.
This idyllic, peaceful little place was where we were raising our three children who were 6, 7, and 11 on that Tuesday morning. School had just started again after the summer break and we were still finding the routine. The kids attended school in a different district than where we lived, which meant driving them the 11 miles up the road and back 5 days a week. We didn’t mind. They were happy and doing well in their school, and we felt fortunate to have them there.
By 7 a.m. Pacific time the house was abustle with activity, and I turned on the television to catch the morning news before heading out the door with the kids for the day.
I don’t recall exactly how long it took my brain to fully comprehend the images I was seeing on the screen, but it certainly felt like an eternity. New York was under attack. My home state. Some horrible, faceless, hell-spawned entity was attacking my state. My country. My people. My family. My children. Me.
I took my wife aside and showed her what was happening. This was her place too, having grown up in New Jersey, just a stone’s throw from Manhattan, where her dad had once worked in an office in the World Trade Center towers. But instead of stones, the unseen evil was throwing planes full of innocent people into buildings for sport, vaporizing everything in their path.
Stunned silence. Utter disbelief. Wordless horror. Paralyzed and transfixed by a hell we would never be able to unsee, no matter how many decades passed.
They were killing America, one human-fueled grenade at a time. New York City. Washington, DC. A field in Pennsylvania.
My wife and I were both veterans of the US Armed Forces. Without speaking, we grabbed our American flag and headed for the front porch, unfurling it as we went. Posting it to its standard we stood back and watched it wave in the gentle morning breeze.
Looking back, our kids were always kind of slow to motivate when they were little, and the getting ready routine in the morning always seemed to take just a tad longer than it should have. We were grateful for it that morning. It allowed us enough time to turn off the news and compose ourselves, put on our normal everyday mom faces, and carry on with the business of the day.
Normalcy would be important that day, and in the days that followed. Making them feel secure and safe would help them survive a world that had just been turned upside down for so many of us. We trusted the school to know how to talk to the kids about what was happening, depending on their ages, and our kids knew there was no topic off limits for them to discuss with us at home.
At the end of the day that godawful day, they all seemed blessedly unfazed, much to our relief. We asked if they had questions or worries. They said no. They did their homework, played outside, and ate dinner with their usual zeal. It was only later that night as I stood unseen outside my 7-year-old son’s bedroom door, watching him silently building ‘towers’ with his wooden blocks and flying block ‘planes’ into them, over and over, that the true realization hit me- the worst of that horror had barely just begun.