I didn’t know it was there, but the Friday David and I took the kids to the aquarium, we walked around Inner Harbor for a bit–our old stomping grounds, David kept telling the kids, and even though they’re too young to understand how special that place is for us, they’re definitely old enough to roll their eyes at yet another story. What we didn’t know when we rounded the north side of Baltimore’s World Trade Center, though, was that we would come face-to-face with one of the most sombering sights I’ve seen in recent years, and that our children, who will learn about this day in their history books, saw for the first time evidence of what changed the lives of the grown-ups around them forever.
The Baltimore World Trade Center hosts a memorial that includes three steel beams from the 94th to 96th floors of what was the north tower of the New York World Trade Center, so twisted together–fused, according to Wikipedia–that they look like one. They rest on limestone from the Pengaton’s damaged wall, and below that are marble blocks set in a large rectangle that bear the names and birthdays of the ninety-eight Maryland residents who died in the 9/11 attacks (There’s another exhibit to honor the heroes who diverted Flight 93.). Wikipedia says that the platform is arranged so that the building’s shadow acts as a sundial, moving across inscriptions that describe the events of that day in such a way that on September 11 of each year, that same shadow falls on each inscription at the exact time that event occurred. This, kids, is why you study science and math in school.
David and I stood there a long time, quiet. There was a man standing a few feet away from us, describing the reason for the memorial to his son, who looked to be about Saoirse’s age: “Well, some very bad men flew a plane into a building. A lot of people died that day, killed by the bad men, and this is part of that building.” He was actually a bit more descriptive than that, and from the look on the little boy’s face, it seemed the explanation–can that be the right word, as if there was a reason for it?–was more for the father himself. I moved the girls to the other side of the memorial, out of ear shot.
Saoirse looked up at the twisted steel, the pieces jutting out at crazy, unnatural angles. It was hard for the adults to be so close to something that had been…so close. In it. Witness. And SK wondered why it was damaged. I told her that it had been part of a building, and she, of course–of course, of course, because children want answers and they want them to be simple and truthful–wanted to know why it was now on the ground. I did what all good teachers do when they want a child to learn, and what all good parents do when they have no idea what the hell to say to their children, and asked what she thought happened to it. She looked at it for a moment longer.
“Maybe the winds came and broke it,” she said. It made perfect sense, of course, to think that only the weather could do something so catastrophic. That answer was good enough for her.
Our children are one, four, and six years old. Right now that answer is good enough for us, too.