Friday, August 20, 2010

Lessons From The Pentagon Memorial

Benjamin asked if it would be okay to sit on the bench.
 "Yeah, babe- I think that would be alright," I said. So we sat,
and we stirred the pebbles with our feet, and I tried
 to explain why people would fly an airplane into a building on purpose.  And I wished
that they could see the beauty of this place and not know that the world
has some terrible realities.   
I took my children to see The Pentagon Memorial- for the 184 people who perished when flight 77 crashed into its walls on September 11th.  It is a serene place, really, though we landed there squarely at "rush hour", amongst the hustle and bustle of civilian employees and military officers, trying to catch a bus, or a ride on the slug line, hurrying to their cars, or walking to the metro. 

The memorial is beautifully composed of steel and granite benches, each with a stream of water underneath, which, at night, provides a spectacular yet peaceful display of lights (I'd first been by, with my friend Nancy, after a hockey game, last winter).  The name of each of the fallen is engraved into the individual benches, pointing toward the Pentagon for those who were working inside the building when the plane hit, or away from the Pentagon, for those fifty-five passengers and crew members who died on board the aircraft.  The benches are arranged by birth year, the first bench, sitting apart and alone, at the head of the Memorial, is for Dana, a three year old.  She'd lived in University Park, a neighboring town of Riverdale Park, where we resided in 2001.  We'd often seen her at the library for story time- my daughter, Lily, being three years old then too.. 

As I gazed upon her bench, saddened, of course, by the reality that such a young person had to experience such a terrifying ordeal, I began thinking, as I have for the last 9 years,  about the burden her parents must have faced, in their last moments aboard the flight- trying to comfort their children or shield them from what lay ahead.  None of us could ever know the horror of those minutes....they are unfathomable and unnerving to ponder. 

But there are ways we can break the unthinkable down into bits and pieces, which can then be applied to what we, as parents, must endure everyday.  And here is where the lessons come to me-  somewhere in our children's existence there is imperfection, pain, things that aren't going as well as we had imagined.  At some point we are faced with the fact that we have birthed human beings who somehow are not turning out by the book, so to speak... with the ease we had hoped for- the perfect lives, all colored within the lines......And what I struggle with, right now, and what you too may find difficult, is taking those realities, worrying about them, being CONSUMED by them, then somehow, being able breathe deeply and persuade your kid to believe, EVEN IF YOU DO NOT, that THINGS ARE GOING TO BE OKAY.  I wear my heart on my sleeve, friends, with all of my emotions right there for the world to see as I am going through them.  And when I am afraid, truly afraid, I'm not so good at hiding the craziness that lurks inside of me (actually, I am terrible at this)..  But I was advised recently, by someone I trust, that perhaps it is best to fake it, if you will.  Put aside all the books, the googling, the research, the statistics,  all of the wringing of hands and crying and say- "Listen, babe, this is all going to work out the way it is supposed to, even if it is yuckier than we planned.  I know it feels terrible and confusing, but I also know that you are strong and I am strong and we are going to get through this together. And with every fiber of my being, I believe that in the end, things are going to be okay..."  These words fly in the face of my most pessimistic self, not to mention that they take an enormous amount of mindfulness- but uttering them is calming for me- and the same is true for whatever kid I happen to be obsessing over in that minute. Even when my brain defies this bantering as nonsense, the voice of my soul believes that somewhere in there is the truth- and our kids need to hear it even when we are steeped in doubt and lying pittifully in our own dirt..


I don't know what Dana's mother said to her and her sister, once she knew that their flight was doomed.  I am not a betting woman, but if I had to bet, I would say that she soothed them with her words, whether she believed them or not.  I would say that she probably sucked it up and went for the "calming card"- and though, in the end, it would not come to pass, they would have left this world quickly- with the comfort of hope, which, even in much less tragic situations, is all we really ever have to give our kids anyway.

Afterall, as long as there is life- there is hope.

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Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States
Forty-three year-old, mother and staunch advocate of four young children, passionate warrior of truth and self, finding the soul in each day, sharing my struggles and triumphs as I live them. Mostly I do this for me, so my thoughts don't race as much at night as they used to. But I also give this to those of you who need to know, in any or every way, that you are not alone.

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