When birthdays and tragedies collide

 

On the nine-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, people around the world still will be filled with agonizing sorrow, incredible disbelief and unforgivable rage. I share those emotions -- so you can only imagine how I felt when my daughter was born in 2006, on the five-year anniversary of that catastrophic event.

Unaware of the atrocities that occurred on that day, my daughter entered this world full of all the life, joy, hope and promise that we as parents have for our children. She's never known about the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a remote field in Pennsylvania. The name "Osama Bin Laden" has meant nothing to her, and "Islamic jihad" is a concept she's not fathomed.

I have often wondered how people born on Aug. 6, when a bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, or on Dec. 7, when Pearl Harbor was attacked, have coped with sharing their birthdays with these tragic events. Should a historical black cloud hover over those who just happened see the world for the first time on that day? Should they be subjected to the ever-present questions and inevitable judgment that goes with them, from friends and strangers alike?

I think they should not. I've decided to use my daughter's birthday this year as a teachable moment, for she is now old enough to learn about what happened on that fateful day.

I plan to share with her the fear that I, along with millions of people just like me, felt that day. I will tell her about the terrorists' hatred and the grief the families and the world experienced. Most importantly, I will tell her that the United States of America is resilient, and our people stood together as a single nation that always rises from tragedy stronger and more determined, and is at its best in the wake of disaster. Strangers helped strangers; people gave their best effort to save lives; and they performed unbelievable feats of courage to assist those in need. I'll speak of the greatest outpouring of love and unity I've ever witnessed in my life. I will say, "That's right. All of this happened on your birthday."

For those born on Sept. 11 or any other day when a significant tragedy occurred and was written into the history books forever, don't let that history define your special day. My daughter, with millions of people, should be proud of having such unique birthdays. Live your life free from the negativity surrounding that day, and remember that this country came together in a time of sorrow.

Someone once said, "We're not responsible for the day we are born or the day we die -- only for the hash mark in between."

Jamal Hayward

Aiken, S.C.

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