Friday, September 01, 2006

An Open Letter

My children refer to "golden birthdays," although I never heard of them before. Apparently, your golden birthday is the day that your age matches the date of your birth. If you were born on the 1st or 2nd of the month, it will definitely pass unnoticed, or if, like me, you were born on the 28th of the month, you will have to wait a long time for your golden birthday. My son was looking forward to celebrating his golden birthday in 2001. However, he was born on September 11th, and his golden birthday will always be remembered as one of the saddest days in American history. I will not write much about that day, except to say that because of the time difference between Poland and the US we were fortunate enough to have some happy family time before the devastation.

As we approached the first anniversary of that day and I pondered how to celebrate J's birthday, I wrote the following "open letter" for my son and for other children affected in the same way.

I have other things to think and write about in the next week, so I am going to post this now. This year will be the fifth anniversary of the 9/11/2001 attacks on the United States. I wrote the following letter on the occasion of the first anniversary, but I share it again, just in case there may be someone who might be blessed by it. Even after five years, I can't read it without crying.

An Open Letter to Children Whose Birthday is September 11th

September 11th was an important day for you before the year 2001. Youprobably had it marked on the calendar and had been looking forward to it. September 11th is your day--in many ways, the most important day of the whole year. Your birthday is a celebration of your life--a day to be happy,a day to be the center of attention, a day to add a year to your age and let everyone know that you are growing up. You thought September 11th was a very special day before 2001--and it is!

On your birthday last year, 2001, the United States of America was attacked in a shocking and horrifying way. Instead of smiles and songs, most of us were filled with tears and choking sorrow. So many people were hurt and killed that day--we could hardly think of anything else. It was right for us to share in the anguish and pain of those who were suffering. But we don't want to forget you.

Birthdays are very, very special days when you are a child. You probably won't care so much about your birthdays after you become an adult, but they mean a lot to you now. You only get one 6th birthday, one 10th birthday, or one 12th birthday. All in all, there are only a few childhood birthdays to celebrate, and every one of them is important. Last year, your day was spoiled by the hate-filled actions of wicked people. It wasn't only planes that were hijacked--it was your celebration. I know it hurt to have your special day ruined--as if someone took your nicest gift and trampled it underfoot. For you, and for every other child with a September 11th birthday (you know you're not alone, don't you?), you lost something very precious in 2001.

Even though we can't give you back your celebration for September 11th, 2001, you need to know that it is okay to feel happy and celebrate this year, and every other year to come. Your one lost birthday does not mean that you cannot enjoy and celebrate your day this year and every year in the future. Remember that September 11th belonged to you before it was "hijacked" by terrorists. When we refuse to be fearful or afraid, we win a victory against them. It's okay to have a cake with candles, sing songs, play games, and be joyful on September 11th. You will have to share some part of your day with us in remembering what happened in 2001, but in this way, you share a part of history with many children who have lived before

There have been other tragedies, other attacks, other horrors down through the ages. In every case, some children have had birthdays or special days that were overshadowed by dark events.

Brother Andrew was a missionary who took the gospel behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War. He was a child in Holland, however, when Hitler went to war against Europe. He remembered the day that the planes fell over his village, dropping bombs on the airport near his home. His family huddled together all night, listening to the planes and the explosions--his homeland was being attacked. Even as a man nearly 40 years old, he looked back and recalled--"It was my twelfth birthday." He did not forget that.

As you grow to adulthood, you will not forget that your homeland was attacked on your birthday, either. None of us will ever forget September 11th, 2001, but this event has touched you personally. Your life has not been changed in the same way as those who lost loved ones that day, but it has been touched in a way that you will probably always remember--even when you are as old as 40.

Of course, we understand that you don't want anyone to be sad on your birthday. Your friends and your family are having some of the same thoughts that you are--they want to be happy for you, but they can't help feeling sad about what happened last year. You are in a unique position, and perhaps you have to grow up a little faster than we wanted you to, because you are learning at a young age that sometimes good things and bad things, or happy things and sad things, happen at the same time. In this case, you are in a special position to hold your head high and let the world know that the
terrorist attacks on America will not defeat you.

Celebrate your birthday! Many people died on this day last year, but we are still going to celebrate your life this year. You can show us all that September 11th is more than a day for grieving, although we do mourn. You can help remind us that hate and fear are conquered by love. The Bible says, in Psalm 118:24, "This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it." That goes for September 11th, too--especially for you.

God's love is more powerful than the hate that men feel and demonstrate toward each other. This year, on your birthday, we have to remember that hate and violence are part of our world, but at the same time we will not forget that love conquers all. We love you, and we celebrate your life. We will not forget those who died on this day in 2001. But we will not
forget you, either.

Happy Birthday to You!

Copyright 2002


At 9:00 PM , Blogger Mama Squirrel said...

Thanks for sharing this!

Some people have happier things happen on their birthdays. One of my dad's childhood birthdays was on V-E Day in 1945--he must have thought that everyone else was celebrating his birthday too!

At 1:00 PM , Blogger Xeres said...

Bless you, Karen ... what a beautiful message.

My first child was due to be born on Sept 11, 2001. I got up expecting (hoping) to be going in to labour any time soon, and instead found my husband already ensconced in front of what looked like a horro movie, and that turned out to be horribly, awfully, actually happening :(.

My son, with his usual impeccable timing, chose to put another 10 days between that day and the day he finally decided to make his entrance. I feel fortunate for him that he does not have to face those mixed happy-but-sad feelings for his birthday.

Thus his 'golden birthday' will actually be his 21st! :) I'll have to remember that when it comes around.


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