Archived Story

Pride in America lasts forever, young one

Published 6:02am Sunday, September 11, 2011

Column: Pass the Hot Dish, by Alexandra Kloster

On the evening of Sept. 11, 1979, I hid at the top of the stairs and listened as my brother-in-law told my parents that Jesse Alexander Rose had been born. At 8 years old I was an aunt, and a whole new person would be coming to live with us. “I can’t believe this is happening,” I said to myself.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I stood behind a group of teachers in the library of the school where I taught. They were clutching each other around a television watching as the second tower of the World Trade Center collapsed. “I can’t believe this is happening,” I said to myself.

Alexandra Kloster

My whole family was waiting at my parents’ house to greet Jesse when he came home from the hospital. I put a chair next to where he lay in his bassinet and watched him to see what he would do. I found out pretty quickly that babies don’t do much. There was nothing in his eyes but complete agreement with his life. For him, everything was right and all he knew was true. I remember leaning over him and whispering in his ear, “You are very boring, baby, but I love you.”

My whole class of seventh-graders walked into the room looking stunned. How could they already know? Tragedy is a virus. It jumps from host to host attacking with greedy speed. They knew something very bad had happened in New York City and possibly other places. Everyone began talking at once, making up what they didn’t know. I watched as a human being’s instinct to create myth where there is mystery took shape right in front of me. They had questions. I had no answers. I could only try to calm them and say, “Everything will be all right, and I love you.”

The first few days after Jesse arrived I could tell my family was changed. It seemed like suddenly everyone was 8 years old just like me. Maybe we put the light in Jesse because we wanted to see it there or maybe he was born with it, but that kid was sunshine in footy pajamas. It was impossible to have one dark thought with him around. He brought out the best in all of us.

The first few days after 9/11 I could tell the world was changed. It didn’t feel much like the land of the free anymore, but it had never felt more like the home of the brave. I talked to my students a lot about the word hero and what it meant. We talked about doctors and nurses, firefighters and police officers, ordinary men and women driven to do extraordinary things. We talked about people who ran into danger to see if they could help a stranger. We talked about how a dark time had the potential to bring out the best in a great country.

Ten years have passed. Every Sept. 11 I wish Jesse a happy birthday, but I stop short of celebrating the day that gave me one of the most precious people in my life. It felt wrong to appreciate such a gift when on the same day, 22 years later, so many lost so much. I don’t know if that is the right way to think anymore. The people who attacked us craved our weakness, but what they got was our strength. Now every Sept. 11 they depend on our despair. Maybe it is time for each of us in our own ways to stop giving it to them. Good and evil are always going to exist at the same time. It is within us to let joy lift us up even when we are consumed with memories of sorrow.

This year I tread delicately and respectfully into happiness on this day. I will mark it for Jesse, who has never lost his light and for the thousands who had their lights taken from them. If Jesse were born on this Sept. 11, I would whisper something different in his ear. I would say, “Someday, baby, I will tell you why this day is important. You will be sad. That will last for a while. But you will be proud and grateful to be American. That will last forever.”

Woodbury resident Alexandra Kloster appears each Sunday. She may be reached at alikloster@yahoo.com, and her blog is Radishes at Dawn at alexandrakloster.com.