The days leading up to September 11, 2001, had been tiring, but productive. On Saturday, the 8th, we had started the wall and ceiling painting phase of our living room renovation. Sunday was another full day of painting and on Monday I painted some more on my lunch hour (I had been working from home for a few months after the company I worked for shut down their New York City office — my commute was from our bedroom a few feet over to our home office/guest bedroom). Much shorter than my previous hour-plus train ride on the Long Island Rail Road to the midtown office building with the great view of downtown NYC.
On the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I was milking my short “commute” and still lounging in my bed when my phone rang. It was my brother-in-law telling me to turn on my TV because a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. A short few minutes after that I watched a second plane crash into the other tower, and it was painfully obvious that we were under attack.
I tried doing my work as usual that day, but as it was for many Americans, my TV stayed on and tuned to the news. It served as a frightening distraction. I took a few emails and phone calls from co-workers based in our Boston and California offices. They knew I was in New York but didn’t realize how far away I was from the City out here on Long Island. They all told me to log off and forget about work for the day. I wish I hadn’t followed their advice, because all I did was glue myself even more to the TV coverage.
By the end of that tragic, heart-wrenching Tuesday, I was numb. I wasn’t sure how I’d be able to focus on work the next day and I certainly was in no mood to continue painting our living room. I felt sad, depressed, scared, and helpless. I logged on to work, did my assignments, but did not communicate with anyone.
As lunch came that Wednesday, September 12th, 2001, I dragged myself down to the living room and started to paint. A police helicopter flew low in the sky outside my window, which would become a regular occurrence for the next few days. It was both comforting and disconcerting.
Suddenly, I heard the faint sound of knocking on the door that separated my wife and my part of the house from my mother-in-law’s apartment. I was standing on a ladder and yelled out, “Come in.”
My mother-in-law came walking in and beside her was my three-year-old niece, Kristin. I had forgotten that my mother-in-law was babysitting her. This adorable, loving child was a welcome distraction.
I got down on my knee to hug her and then the two of us wound up laying on our bellies face-to-face. The photo accompanying this essay was taken at that moment.
We then had a conversation that was so innocent and sweet that it managed to be uplifting enough to cheer me up and get me through the next few days.
“How are you, Kristin?” I asked.
“Good,” she said with her bubbly exuberance.
“I’m glad,” I said.
“How are you, Uncle Dan?” she asked with a smile.
“I’m actually very sad today, honey,” I responded.
“Why are you sad,” she asked.
“Some bad men did some very bad things yesterday and hurt a lot of people,” I said while trying to be honest but vague.
“My daddy told me that,” she said.
“But do you know what?” I asked.
“What?” she asked in anticipation.
“I don’t feel as sad right now,” I said.
“Why?” she asked.
“Because you came to visit me today and made me smile,” I said.
“Really?” she asked with a smile on her face.
“Really,” I said and smiled back at her.
She looked so happy and kind of proud. we proceeded to talk and laugh for a bit more before I had to go back to work.
I’ve never forgotten that moment, now twenty years ago. The smile and laughter of a child, who’s innocence shielded her from the evil that had happened the day before, was simple but powerful enough to raise the dark curtain I found myself covered by and let the light of healing love shine through.