Explaining 9/11

9/11 was mentioned in the sermon this past Sunday, and it immediately caught the kids’ attention. Neither one knew what the priest was talking about, or had even heard of the event.

Later, when we were in the car together, I tried to explain. I started with the easy stuff: how dates are written. They don’t use the “month/day” format at school, so the “9/11” terminology didn’t make any sense to them. Once we got that out of the way, I moved on to the heavier stuff.

“Terrorists,” I started.

“Wait,” my oldest interrupted. “What’s that?”

“Okay.” I took a deep breath, not sure I was ready for these particular waters. “Imagine being so afraid that it’s tough to think. That’s terror. Okay?”

In the rearview window, I saw them nodding. “Well,” I continued. “Terrorists want to use that like a weapon. That’s why they’re called terrorists. These particular terrorists hate America. They don’t believe in any of the freedoms, or rights, that we have.”

“Like the right to talk,” my second-grader said. They just had a lesson on rights and responsibilities at school, so there was a connection there.

“Exactly,” I said. “And they want us to be so afraid that our whole country collapses.”

“What did they do?” my third-grader asked.

“They crashed planes into the twin towers.”

I explained what the twin towers were, and then talked about the plane that hit the pentagon, and the one that the passengers managed to stop from hitting its target. That one caught their attention the most.

“Those people were heroes,” my oldest said.


“Were they heroes before the were on the plane?” his little brother asked.

“I don’t know. Most people aren’t known as heroes until they do their heroic thing.”

We talked about that for a little while, and then my youngest hit me with a question that stopped me: “Were there children on the planes?”


Question led to question led to question. I told them about people who twisted religion to get power, about how afraid they were of other people thinking or worshipping differently than they do. We talked about how people could get so confused and angry they were willing to blow themselves up.

By the end, they both seemed to have a pretty good grasp on what had happened. I think I may even have managed to reinforce the “you have to think for yourself” lesson that I’m always pounding into their brains.

It wasn’t until later, when I was talking to my wife about it, that I realized that not once in the whole conversation did the word “Muslim” ever come up.

I have to admit that I’m pretty proud of that. What’s important is not the religion that was twisted, but the people who did the twisting.

I just wish I could say I’d thought of that in time to include it in my explanation to the boys.

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