Today is September 11, a day that takes the all-consuming love that we have for our kids and pits it right against the realities and fears associated with what this day means. On a human level, we all hurt on this day; we all feel the ripple effects somewhere in our beings. Yet as a new parent of an innocent baby, I am struggling with comprehending the magnitude and significance of today's very real loss for my little family of three.
It was about an hour into our first date, six years ago, when I first learned that my now husband had lost his father in the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. An old soul sat in front of me, one with perfect teeth, adorable red hair and a light-up-the-room smile, a guy who made conversation easy, and played along as we discussed how it was a little amusing that our first date happened to be on Valentine's weekend. I could tell that there was instant chemistry, but there was something more to Matt that begged further inquiry. He discussed his family, being the oldest with two younger sisters, and he mentioned his mother and growing up in New York. But this confident and easygoing guy made no mention of his dad.
I inquired further and it became a defining moment in our "beginning." The moment I brought it up, my heart sank. Matt's expression changed. He slowly told me the story of his father, who had worked for a corporation that held offices in eight floors of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. He vanished on that fateful day, only days after seeing Matt for Labor Day weekend during his freshman year of college at the University of Connecticut. I remember it feeling only natural to reach across the table and hold Matt's hands, as I gulped down shock and sadness, trying not to release any tears, feeling some guilt for even bringing up the topic. However, looking back, this moment fostered an even deeper connection and I felt honored and humbled that Matt felt comfortable enough to tell me his story.
Fast forward to 2014: Matt and I are married with a beautiful, healthy and happy baby boy, born on April 28, two days after Matt's birthday. Grant Nolan O'Connor has commandeered our hearts in such a way that any definition of love I felt before seems to pale in comparison. Our exhaustion seems endless, yet the joys of his existence are extraordinary. Along with my prayers for a healthy baby, I snuck in a "can he please have red hair?" as a regular request and as of now, got my wish.
My heart feels extra heavy today, as our hopes and dreams for our child reside on the false reality that he will be spared from pain, loss and struggle. While the absence of Matt's father and my son's grandfather is not my individual grief to shoulder, I still sit here grappling with the ripple effect. Previous years I have felt pure anger, sadness, frustration and confusion -- asking the heavens why my Matt and his sisters had to lose their dad. Today I look at Grant's fuzzy red hair, stroking it softly, and myriad feelings and questions assault my conscience. He is a demanding, aware baby; I have no doubt he will be an inquisitive, curious little boy. How will we respond when he someday asks about his grandfather? What will we say to give him just enough information, to be truthful, but not to scare him? What will we say to Grant as a 5-year-old when he wants to know what September 11th is, and someday, what happened to Grandpa? I have to fight tears to even think of how we would respond when he might ask, "Mommy and Daddy, what are terrorists? Why did they hurt people and take Grandpa?"
For now, we do not have to field these questions or craft the right responses. Today will just be another day for Grant. He will do what most other 4-month-old babies do: snuggle, giggle, smile, fuss, cry, squeal, dirty some diapers, pretend he's a good napper, bat at his Lamaze Firefly and put all of Sophie the Giraffe's four legs into his little drooling mouth at once. He won't feel my tears as I nurse him this morning and kiss the top of his head. Grant will simply be Grant, innocent to the tragedy associated with today... and for that, in this moment, I am most grateful.
Perhaps the all-consuming love we feel for our babies is the greatest comfort on a day as heavy as today. We cannot appreciate love in its entirety if we cannot have an understanding of its polar opposite. Today reminds me that with Grant's innocence, the adults in this world have the power to help shape the minds and hearts of our youth. In the simplest of terms, if nothing else, I hope we can best teach Grant love, appreciation for all forms of life, acceptance and tolerance of others, humility and resilience.
For now, I am going to go scoop up Grant, smell his hair, stroke his cheek, and whisper to him, reminding him that he is our greatest joy, that the world will be OK. Above all, I will tell him today and always that amid the madness, chaos and sometimes cruelty of this world... love always wins.