Thingish Things

A 4th of July Story

Written By: William F. B. O'Reilly - Jul• 01•11

How do you explain what happened to the World Trade Center towers to a four-and-three-quarter-year old child?

The best advice might be not to try, but I found myself doing just the opposite last night while driving by the gap along the West Side Highway where the towers stood.

I tend to give it to my children straight. I highlight the history in which they are living, and how it came about, as I wish it had been highlighted to me. (My teenage step-daughters gleefully tease me about old bedtime stories featuring the likes of Hitler, Pol Pot, and Idi Amin.) But my little one seemed so very little last night.

Children are relentlessly curious, and once I breached the topic of the World Trade Center the questions flowed and stayed flowing. I watched as my little girl struggled to understand what had occurred.  She formed and re-formed a narrative in her head as additional information came in.

She had a hundred questions about the people trapped inside: Did they do something wrong? Why couldn’t they get away from the fire?  What happened to them afterward? Did they go straight to God? Why is Uncle Mike still alive if he was in one of the buildings? Is he magic? Were the bad guys stranger-danger people?

The more she asked – the more innocent her narrative – the more I regretted having raised the topic. It hurt watching another layer of her childhood peel away.

After passing the towers, we visited last night’s real destination, the Statue of Liberty, where my daughter skipped around like only a four-and-three-quarter-year-old girl can. On the way back home in the car, though, as her mother and I urged her to sleep, she resumed her questioning. She asked me repeatedly to tell her a story – a specific story – about the Statue of Liberty coming alive and stepping down from her pedestal.  And she asked if we ever got the bad guys.

I didn’t realize until my head hit the pillow just exactly what she wanted to happen in that story.  She wanted Lady Liberty to come down and save those people.  She wanted her to walk across the harbor and snatch the planes from the air before they could hurt anyone.  That is very much in the realm of possibility to a four-and-three-quarter-year-old.

Screw it. Childhood is fleeting. Tonight I will tell her that story. And I’ll tell her it’s true. Because, in a way, it is.   Lady Liberty is what always saves us at the end of the day.


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  1. JV says:

    WHat a great story Bill. I want to hear the lady liberty story too.

  2. Pugs says:

    Co-worker just walked by my cube…asked me if everything was ok…as tears streamed down my cheeks and I am scrambling for a tissue…great writing Bill, thank you.

  3. Bill O'Reilly says:

    Don’t worry, Pugs. Georgia and I got ’em in the end.

  4. […] was recently trying to explain to my almost-five-year-old daughter what happened on 9-11 after passing the site in a car. It was a […]

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