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September 11th

I will tell them the story…

about the day we fought with Mari for the remote control and insisted the grown-ups in the room watch the traffic update on the local news instead of another episode of Barney, only to watch in horror as the TV played over and over again a clip of a plane circling the towers and piling into the windows and the steel and the concrete, forcing a grand, raging ball of bright orange fire into the sky.

I will tell them the story…

about how we thought it was a mistake—surely, a horrible, tragic mistake—until the second plane crashed. And then the third and the fourth. And the smoke wailed. And the phones went dead. And the people started leaping. And the buildings, full of the friends and colleagues and acquaintances we made in this beautiful stretch of Manhattan where we’d long worked… crumbled.

I will tell them the story…

about how their daddy and I, having watched planes rain down from the most perfect blue sky… having watched two of the most important buildings in our city fall to the ground… having considered that hundreds, if not thousands, of people—white, black, Latino, Asian, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, atheist, male, female, heterosexual, gay, rich, poor, white collar, blue collar, Americans, immigrants, old, babies, important and invisible—died in that concrete and that twisted metal and that fire and that smoke and that utter chaos in those beautiful streets… fell to our knees and cried—cried—as we begged God to bless the victims and heal their hurts and soothe their families and open the gates of Heaven for the dead innocents whose only fault lay in getting to work on time that day.

I will tell them the story…

about how we couldn’t go back to work for several days and that when we did finally make it back, we could smell smoke and chemicals and fire and death—saw it settle like a thick fog over Manhattan—all the way over and beyond Park Avenue South and 23rd, almost three miles away… and how we wore sneakers and sweat suits to work for weeks, just in case someone else decided to fly more airplanes into more buildings and we were forced to make our way across the Brooklyn Bridge or onto a ferry headed for Jersey City.

I will tell them the story…

about how I met and fell in love with their father for the first time at City Hall, just blocks away from Ground Zero… and how we used to walk past and admire the beauty of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church on our way to lunch… and how just moments before I got married to Nick, my mother adjusted my dress and kissed my face and told me she loved me on the beautiful spiral staircase of the Marriott World Trade Center, which, because of the attack, is no more… and how Nick and I were scheduled to have a book signing on September 12, 2001 at the Borders just down the street from the towers but couldn’t because that building fell, too…

And I will tell them the story…

about how as much as this diehard New Yorker abhors the crazy zealots who attacked our city, our country, our home, our way of life, our beliefs, our freedoms, we could never use what happened on September 11th as a license to feed on hate and fear of the religions, cultures, races, ethnicities, backgrounds and differences of others… to go against every single, solitary ideal our great country was built upon… to close our eyes and ears and hearts to the American promise to open its arms to all, even those with whom we do not agree, because it is their right, as it is our tenet, to support freedom of expression and ideas and thought, even if they do not jibe with our own.

And I will tell them…

that the Americans who hate on Muslims, and try to tell them where, when and how to practice their religion, and who threaten to burn (or actually burn) ancient holy texts like the Qur’an, and who terrorize fellow Americans who don’t think or look or roll exactly like them, and who turn their backs on this rare jewel—this jewel of freedom—for a fleeting moment in the spotlight or some sick, doofy, racist-disguised-as-patriotic rush, dishonor the 2,973 Americans who died at the hands of lunatics.

And I will tell my girls this story on this September 11th, when I show them the picture of my mother kissing my cheek in the grand staircase at the Marriott (to recall the sweeter memories), and we say a prayer for the 9/11 victims and their families (with the hope that they find peace and know that they did not die in vain), and we march them to our nearest bookstore to purchase a Qu’ran (so that our babies not only can see up close an ancient, religious text read and studied by millions of people throughout the world, but read it in the name of peace, unity, tolerance and the profound understanding that learning about , understanding, and embracing the religions, cultures, backgrounds and beliefs of others is our way, even if these days, it doesn’t seem like the American way).

I will tell them the story.

And my babies will know.

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