September 11th. It is a date etched in the memory of all of us. There probably isn’t a single date that evokes the emotion in our heart and soul like September the eleventh. Anyone reading this remembers where they were when they first heard the news ten years ago on September 11, 2001.
I suspect hardly anyone though could tell you where they were or what they were doing twenty years ago on September 11, 1991.
That was one of the most significant days of my life. Twenty years ago on September 11, I was in South Austin Hospital — completely freaking out that I was about to become a father for the first time.
I had no clue what to expect. There are no instruction manuals that come with babies. Heck, I’d never even witnessed the birth of anything much less the birth of a child.
I’m not sure exactly what was going thorough my head that day, other then wonder, awe, and a pretty healthy dose of, “Oh my God, what have we done and what were we thinking?” Mix in a lot of, “Can we afford this? Will I be a good father? What if he hates me? What if I don’t love him?” It was a crazy day!
The “What if I don’t love him?” question was answered at 6:35pm that evening. That is when my son, James Graham Thompson, III was born. Not to get all graphic on you or anything, but we made eye contact when he wasn’t even half-way out. At that moment I knew my fear of not loving this kid wasn’t going to be an issue.
I expected him to come out screaming bloody murder, but he wasn’t even whimpering.
“Shouldn’t they smack him on the ass or something?” I thought to myself. “Is he OK?” I said out loud. “Oh, he’s absolutely perfect!” a nurse said. “I’ve never seen a baby this alert and aware,” said the OB. “Why isn’t he crying? Shouldn’t he be crying? Are you sure he’s OK?”
“Here, hold your son. He’s fine. He’s perfect. Congratulations Daddy,” said someone.
And there he was, in my arms and I put him in the waiting arms of his mother, who had never looked so freaking gorgeous in all the time I’d known her.
Today, I can’t believe that beautiful, perfect, precious little baby is twenty years old.
Twenty. No longer a teenager. He’s a man now.
And he’s a hell of a man. I’m so proud of my son. Oh, we’ve had our moments, believe me. He is stubborn as he can be, and fiercely independent ”“ always has been. He is also one of the brightest people I’ve ever known with a business mind that is second to none. I wouldn’t trade him for anything though, and I’m proud to call him my friend, and my son.
Ten years ago on September 11, we had plans. After all, turning 10 is a big deal! I remember sitting around with Francy on September 10 thinking, “Wow, can you believe James will be 10 years old tomorrow? Wow, time flies.”
I had no idea what else that day ten years ago would bring. There was no reason to believe it would be anything but just another Tuesday, with a special celebration for a special little boy
Francy woke me up very early that morning saying, “A plane just flew into the World Trade Center.” My first thought was, “How the hell can that happen? Even with a plane in distress, the odds of hitting a building have to be astronomical.” When I saw the images on TV, I turned to Francy and said, “That’s not an accident. That’s a terrorist attack.”
We watched in utter horror as the second plane hit. And then the Pentagon. Then the south tower collapsed. And then UA93 crashed in Shanksville. Then the north tower fell. It felt like we were living in the seventh level of hell, wondering what was going to happen next. I remember Francy and I looking at each other in disbelief, and wondering how we were going to explain all this to a ten year old and a seven year old.
I can’t recall what exactly we told the kids. I’m sure it was something about how there are some evil people in the world, but to not be afraid. I distinctly remember my son looking up at me and saying, “Daddy? Why did this have to happen on my Birthday?” He wasn’t being selfish, he was just a couple of hours into his tenth birthday, really his first “milestone” birthday. But he already knew that something very bad that would be forever associated with the date of his birth had happened.
“Daddy? Why did this have to happen on my Birthday?” How do you answer that question?
Ten years after that horrific day, we’ll remember all those that lost their lives that morning. We’ll never forget. We can’t forget. The magnitude of loss that day is still difficult to comprehend. This morning I participated in a memorial ceremony that included reading the names of all 2,996 men, women and children that were murdered that morning. It was gut-wrenching. Name after name after name was read. It took over three hours of non-stop reading to work through the list. There were names from many different ethnic and national backgrounds, entire families, children. I must have read 200 names and was glad I hadn’t broken down. Then I got a new batch of names and went back in line. As I’d done with my previous lists, I reviewed the names so I could do my best and pronounce them as best I could. That’s when I saw this on my name card: Sylvia San Pio Resta and her unborn child.
I got through Sylvia’s name OK, but saying, ”˜”¦ and her unborn child” was rather. . . difficult.
There was also a John Resta listed on my card, but I couldn’t be sure then that there was any relation. It wasn’t until I got home and searched that I found out John and Sylvia Resta were husband and wife, and she was seven months pregnant with their first child.
In one instant, an entire family with everything in front of them was snuffed out.
A list of names so long it takes hours to read.
So much more behind all those names. They were husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and friends. All had their lives in front of them. Most were just at work that Tuesday morning. Some were travelling. None could have possibly expected what would happen that day. Certainly none deserved what happened that day.
For the past ten years, September Eleventh has been a day of mixed emotions in our house. There is the sadness, and anger, that comes from remembering September 11, 2001. Those feelings are juxtaposed with the happiness in celebrating September 11, 1991. The easy thing to do would be to ignore the pain of ten years ago and focus instead on the happiness. But we cannot take the the easy way out. We cannot ignore 9/11/2001. We cannot ever forget. We will celebrate September 11, and we will remember September 11.
Here is a video of the end of today’s memorial ceremony at the Tempe 9/11 Healing Field. Both of these songs are poignant reminders of that fateful day ten years ago. Tonight we’ll be singing another song, celebrating that wonderful day twenty years ago.