Some thoughts on 9/11

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I found out I was pregnant with my second child on 9/11. For me that day was a strange juxtaposition of personal happiness as a mother and deep anger and grief as an American. And there was another feeling in there—indignation. How could anyone not see what America stands for? I was bringing a new life into the world in a large part because I lived in an amazing country where anything was possible.

The tall buildings in Century City and Beverly Hills had been evacuated, in case there were attacks planned for the West Coast, but my obstetrician was at his office as usual. He was an Israeli doctor, and having grown up in Israel, he didn’t consider a possible terrorist attack to be a reason not to show up for work. So in a mostly empty building, with only some of the overhead lights on, he confirmed my pregnancy, and we talked for a long time about the United States and the world and what the future might be like.

The rest of the day was spent with my husband, watching the news, hearing the snippets of information from the fourth plane—the passengers had gotten together and tried to stop the hijackers; would I ever have the guts to do that, or would I be paralyzed by fear?—and trying to understand what exactly was happening in NYC and Washington. D.C.

Now that child who was jut a blip on a blood test is thirteen years old. She’s studied about 9/11 in school, and she talks about it in much the same way I talked about the horrors of Vietnam when I was her age. They were events in the seemingly distant past, terrors that aren’t quite real anymore, because they happened far away to someone else.

She was surprised to see me tearing up when she asked me about the day of 9/11. After all, I wasn’t there; I was safe in Los Angeles. I was crying, of course, for all the people who weren’t safe that day. But I was also crying because, up until then, America had been an ideal in my mind. We were the country that had done better than the ancient Romans and Greeks. We were the first to have a republic where every citizen was equal, where your color, your country of origin, your family, didn’t have to define who you were or what you could become. I’ve always wanted that for my children, but in the last fourteen years, I’ve felt our grasp of that ideal, as Americans, slipping and growing dim. We’ve been sending soldiers overseas for a very long time. We are having trouble welcoming immigrants of all kinds with open arms. Talk about the American Dream often gets greeted by cynicism.

On this 9/11, I want to remember the patriotism of my childhood. When I think of being an American, I remember the surge of delight I felt as kid to know that I was born into a place that would give me freedom and opportunity. I think of ships full of refugees coming to Ellis Island, weeping with joy at the sight of the Statue of Liberty, I think of Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, and a steady march toward more equality and more love. I think of my own responsibility to improve education, so Americans can improve the world and set an example others would like to follow.

Did you know that the Statue of Liberty’s original name was Liberty Enlightening the World? Inscribed beneath her feet are these words: I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

On this anniversary of 9/11, I would like to rededicate myself to the America I imagined as a child—a golden door to freedom. I’m here, my family is here, most of the people I know are here. We’re Americans and this is our country. Let’s make it what we want it to be.