Before 9/11 There was a Birthday…

On September 11th in 2001 my first-born, Annie, turned 16. We had tried to plan something special for weeks. It was, after all, a 16th birthday and in the US it is something of a milestone. Dreadful reality shows like “My Sweet Sixteen” are indulgent, ostentatious, and narcissistic tributes to the importance this birthday plays in the United States.

“Do we get a limo?” I said to my husband worried that I didn’t know how to honor her properly. He looked at me in disbelief and didn’t even have to think about it. “Well, at a cost of $100 an hour I would say – No!” he said emphatically. In the end we decided to have balloons delivered to her high school and a small dinner with two of her friends before a larger party planned for a weekend.

On 9/11 at 8:46 am, on a cloudless day with bright blue sky, United Airlines Flight 11 flew into the first tower followed by a second attack 7 minutes later. All of us know the results. It was, and is, a tragedy and the world gathered in mourning for those killed.

In our family there was a problem. This day had always been a day of rejoicing and celebration. It was the day that in Chicago in 1985 I delivered a bundle of beauty called Annie. Every year was another chance to celebrate all of her life – her talents, her joys, her personality. It hardly seemed fair that terrorists could co-opt this day forever so that we could never again rejoice on the day of her birth. How many other babies were born that day? How many people in the past could have anticipated that their wedding anniversary would fall on a day that terrorists would choose to blow up buildings and destroy life?

Every year I think about this. I think about how I feel guilty celebrating and I feel anger about the domino affect of evil. In this case how it didn’t just affect those killed and the families of those killed but a far bigger circle. Evil permeates like volcanic ash spreading around for miles beyond the volcano and affecting people seemingly far removed from the actual act.

I also think about how life is full of moments like these, where one person is weeping while the next is laughing. Where at the very moment a family is rejoicing at the birth of a baby, someone else is weeping as they watch their loved one take a last breath.

September 11th will always be Annie’s birthday. For 16 years before 9/11 it was her birthday and it still is. It also happens to be a day chosen by people with evil intent to destroy life. Because those two fall on the same day I am acutely aware of the One who brings life and the one who brings death and find both comfort and solution in these words:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. – John 10:10

I wrote a blog post a while back about being capable of complexity and celebrating a daughter’s life while paying tribute to lives that were lost seems to fit in the “capable of complexity” category. I won’t be posting on 9/11 – there will be millions of news articles, posts, commentaries and they will be far better on analyzing events from 10 years ago and reactions from today. But I will say  that I wish my daughter a happy and joy-filled birthday, even as I think back on the sadness and devastation of that day 10 years ago, when evil seemed, for a time, to have won.