Five months after: Love and fear
: Soon after our first child was born, 10 years ago, I promised myself that our children would never go to sleep without hearing that we loved them; it’s a small moment but it matters. Over time, this has evolved into what we now call “special words,” a nightly litany of all the people (and a deity) who love our children “all the way to the sky, as high as high, forever and ever.”
After 9.11, my son has added his own tradition. He — and now his little sister as well — will not let my wife or me leave their sight without making sure to say, “I love you.” Every morning from the garage door as I back out; every night as I close the bedroom door; sometimes even when I run out for coffee: “I love you.” And I, of course, repeat the words.
As I’ve mentioned before in this space, this small act at once fills me with joy but also sorrow, for it betrays an obvious but deep fear of what did not happen, but could have happened to me and my family five months ago today. We have never discussed the details or the what-if’s of 9.11. But we do not need to. For behind these private words is a quiet but profound recognition of what changed that day.
It is a lesson for me. If today for a rare moment I try to think that life is returning to some old normal or that the changes in life since that day are not so shattering, all I have to do is leave for work or get ready for bed to be reminded that the change is, in fact, findamental — the potential for change is always with us now.
Now we must say “I love you” because the greatest fear of all is what would happen if we did not. We never expected to be attacked from the sky that day. We can’t know what to expect next. So all we can do now is hold onto each other and remind ourselves how much that matters (and how everything else, from politics to money, does not matter). That is all we can control and so we grasp for it. That very need, that sudden compulsion, is a daily reminder of the change and uncertainty and fear we live with now.
So, today, five months after, I am struck by the depth of the change in our lives even as, superficially, that change is less evident.
And I am struck by the simple, profound wisdom of a child in the face of this change and this fear: Without ever saying so, it is clear that he knows what it means and what matters and what we can do about it.