The Freedom Tower - the New World Trade Center, opening in 2014, photo by Theresa McNelley
The Freedom Tower – the New World Trade Center, opening in 2014, photo by Theresa McNelley

by Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter and Boston City Paper, 9/2014

Thursday, September 11, 2014:  According to various web sites, somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 kids across America celebrate their 13th birthday today. I would venture to guess that for most, they’re in the 6th-8th grade, they’re finding their way, and their parents are beginning to wonder when their sweet child was replaced with this independent teen-ager with thoughts and ideas of their own.

Each of these kids bears a burden; at some point, likely many times, they have provided their birth date to a school, a doctor, a library, what have you, and they have replied, “September 11, 2001.”

And I would bet money that more often than not, the initial response was a reflexive, “Oh…”

Or a fleeting, negative reaction.

You can’t say that date without instantly feeling the negatively. For most living Americans, September 11, 2001 is the worst day they remember, second only to perhaps December 7, 1941 and November 22, 1963.

Those thousands of children, all who turn 13 today, bear a burden like no other – the very day of their arrival on Earth – the day of their birth – something that should always be joyous – is overshadowed forever by the worst terrorist attack on American soil and its horrific aftermath.

These teen-agers only know a post 9/11 world. They have no idea how different America was just 24 hours before their birth, and how it will never be the same.

Each year, on this day, we all stop to remember. There are retrospectives, articles, TV specials, commemorative events, reading of the names of those who were killed and quiet candlelight vigils. These are all good, and very necessary, because we must never stop remembering. We must never, ever forget what happened to this country thirteen years ago today – an event so ghastly that its aftermath and repercussions continue on the front page of the news even today.

But while we remember September 11, 2001, and while we continue to deal with two wars, Al Qaeda, the new threat of Isis and the seemingly endless repercussions of that day, we must also never forget that nearly 15,000 children were born that day. Their birth was the BEGINNING for them. The start of HOPE. While the towers were falling, while people died, these infants took their first breaths into a very new world.

There WAS hope that day. Even in the midst of unspeakable tragedy, life went on. Life endured. New life.

And with great respect to the subject matter of this column, I am not being flippant when I say I cannot think of a more perfect quote, than from Star Trek II. Spock had died saving the Enterprise as a new planet has been created in the aftermath of a great battle – and Captain Kirk eulogizes his fallen friend: “And yet it should be noted, in the midst of our sorrow, this death takes place in the shadow of new life, the sunrise of a new world.”

The sunrise of a new world. That’s these kids, all born September 11, 2001.

They represent hope. A new day. Think they bear a heavy burden? Imagine when they realize they are literally the phoenix from the ashes.

Because they, and all the children born since September 11, 2001, represent a new generation, a new way of thinking, young mind, fresh ideas. The human race goes on. America goes on. Hope lives.

Speaking wistfully, perhaps one of these kids might have a few ideas about bringing a lasting peace.

On this and every September 11, we stop to remember, we mourn our dead, and we never forget them. And then we go back to the business of living. Because we have to.

Because as unspeakably horrible as that day was, for nearly 15,000 thirteen year olds, that day was the BEGINNING of their lives.

May each of those children, and all those born in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, find their path, and may they all know that each of them gave us a gift that we as a country desperately needed that day: HOPE.

Happy Birthday to each of them. And may they, and all that follow, know how much we appreciate the gift of their very existence, all the promise their lives bring, all the firsts, all the possibly for a brighter, better future…

We thank each of them for the gift of hope when we needed it most.

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