The infant I had then is ready for driving school, playing soccer on the big boy field, with the ones who look like men and shave. Because of his passion we went to a New England Revolution soccer game on the eve of September 11. The date hadn’t occurred to any of us yet and we soon grew wary of being told to stand for remembrances. Not because the remembrances shouldn’t be held, but because of the constant barrage of manufactured patriotism. If you’re not with us, you’re against us. It gave me a perspective on why an NFL player might want to send his own message in one of these stadiums. There is another story, and the one being presented doesn’t represent all of us.
The next day Younger Son had another game in far away coastal RI. We saw the tributes in our hotel breakfast room but for the first time they were personal and quiet. The reporter interviewed the children of his hometown, where almost two dozen people had lost their lives. These children, married adults now with their own children, calmly told stories of what it was like to grow up without a parent. They’ve had to tell those stories all their lives, no matter what the rest of America says about what happened in 2001.
Waiting for the game to start, we found a beach to walk on. A child played with a soccer ball on a grassy field. A young man approached and asked if he could play. The child turned and bolted away – probably more from stranger danger than the man’s latte-brown skin tone. The man walked to a nearby tree where he had a blanket spread out and began his prayers. His song at the end rang quietly on the breeze and added to the beauty of the ocean scene. The American flag a few feet away hung at half staff. In my mind I encouraged my son to get his ball out of the car and play with the man. But in reality it never happened.
When we got home Older was working on his homework. He said this is why he hates homework, because he had to ask me questions about something sad – 9/11. I didn’t mind. We were spared the worst of the tragedy. I told him about my sister who managed to call and tell me she was OK before cell service went out. He asked if I thought it changed the world – of course it did. Fifteen years and hundreds of thousands of lives lost. “What do you think of the political response?”
Am I allowed to tell him I think it was a continuation of the tragedy? How do I phrase this? I told him about the unity we had squandered – how it didn’t matter who you were but on those days after you looked deeper into each other’s eyes. You made connections with strangers. You cared how people were doing and you chose your words carefully. Using phrases like “It’s so hot I’m gonna die” became too painful to say. No one knew when it was OK to laugh again. We were reverent and unified. We are the opposite now, and that is why sometimes it’s hard to stand up and pledge allegiance. The angry voices in the headlines no longer represent me or what I want for my children. There are more stories than what we’re hearing. I wanted to tell him how we have to love each other, shut our mouths and listen with open minds. But he was on to the next assignment. And the football announcer on the tv mentioned the tributes that were painted on the shoes of some players, while others still kneeled in protest.