My son, Silas, was born on the last normal day. On September 10, 2001, at 10:30 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time, he joined the human cause. His nurse made a mistake with the scale, so we don’t know how much he weighed, but he was big, healthy and loud. He met all his grandparents. He ate, he slept, he got his one kooky eyebrow smoothed down a hundred times.
When Silas was 17 hours old, Mohamed Atta boarded a plane in Maine. Before my son hit 24 hours, the Pentagon was on fire, there was wreckage in Pennsylvania and both towers were down in New York City.
We were in Oregon and never in any real danger, but in his own way Silas saved me. Every TV in America was tuned into presidential speeches and replays and news crawl tickers. Every TV except one. In the recovery room we had Si, and he was all the news that mattered. Reports came in continually, and other people ghost-walked around the hospital talking in low voices. Any other day and I would have joined in the collective mourning, but I just couldn’t do it. Every conversation I had on 9/11 involved the phrase, “Hey, did you see my son?”
It sounds heartless, I know. I feel a little hesitant admitting it, but on arguably the worst day my country has had in 60 years, I had one of my best days. I didn’t plan it or choose for it to be so. It was fated to me, and it was out of my hands. Picture getting married on the same day your neighbor’s house burns down. Being told your cancer is in remission on the day of a school shooting. The other event is sad—maybe unbearably sad—but your own life has become so immediately wonderful through other circumstances you can’t help but feel happy. Call it extremely localized grace.
Around August 25 every year, the reminders start. Facebook posts about supporting the troops, honoring the victims, never forgetting. Television specials, political rallies, NPR discussions about policy. It will be 18 years soon. Silas and his 9/11 peers are hitting adulthood, so there will undoubtedly be reports and features galore. Silas made these redundant for me. Sure, he made the first 9/11 easier for me to handle, but I see him every day and, I promise you, I remember. Happy birthday, Si.
Ryan Kargel has been teaching and leading music in Mennonite Brethren churches for 30 years. He and his wife raised three sons in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, where he writes about contemporary issues and Eco-Theology. Kargel graduated from Oregon State University with a bachelor of science in Environmental Science and Applied Ecology. He attends Kingwood Bible Church in Salem, Oregon.