“But Mom – why did they crash those planes if they knew they were going to die?” my six-year-old asked.

How could I possibly answer?

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A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum with my family. I tried to turn it into an interesting and educational experience for my young children by explaining exhibits and allowing them to interact wherever they could. As we neared a large September 11th exhibit, I stopped them, knelt down, and began to prepare them for what they were about to see. Every September 11th, I talk to them a bit about what the day means to me, but it had been 11 months since we’d had that conversation, and at ages 3 and 6, I knew they’d completely forgotten.

“A lot of years ago, when I was still in high school, there was a very sad day in our country. Some very bad men got onto airplanes and made them crash into tall buildings. There were a lot of workers there, and a lot of people died.” Already the tears were beginning to come, but I tried to explain as matter-of-factly as I could.

“But Mom – why did they crash those planes if they knew they were going to die?” my six-year-old asked.

How could I possibly answer?

“Well, sweetie,” I began slowly, “Do you know how in our family, we don’t use the word ‘hate’?”

Two little heads nodded.

“It’s because hate is such a sad, sad word. It’s the very opposite of love. When we love someone, we do everything we can to take care of them and to make their lives better and happier. When we hate someone, we do whatever they can do to hurt them and to make their lives worse and sadder. And these men had so much hate in their hearts, they chose to kill other people, even though it meant they would die.

“But guys, that’s not what I want you to remember about that day. I want you to remember that there were some very, very brave people that day. I want you to remember them.” I took a deep breath and began telling them stories.

I told them about the first responders who ran up burning staircases instead of down.

I told them about the people all over the country who rallied together, desperate to do something, anything, to help.

And I told them the story of Todd Beamer, a daddy much like their own. A father of two small boys (with a daughter on the way), he often boarded airplanes for business trips. That fateful morning, he boarded United Flight 93 for a routine trip to San Francisco – and soon found himself trapped in a nightmare. A phone call to an airphone supervisor, Lisa Jefferson, informed him that there were a series of attacks occurring, and that his plane was likely headed to the nation’s capitol. Todd counseled with Lisa, and he and a few of the other men decided they only had one option – take over the cockpit. After reciting the Lord’s Prayer with her and asking her to pass his love on to his family, he put the phone down. He rallied the other passengers, and they charged on his command. The last thing Lisa heard him say was the phrase that he had used countless times with his sons to let them know that it was time to take action.

Let’s roll.

At this point, there was no stopping my tears.

“Do you guys think that he wanted to die that day, or that he wanted to come home and see his wife and his kids?”

“Come home.” “Come home.”

“I think so, too. I think if he had one more wish in his life, it would have been to make it home safely to his family. But he knew that that wasn’t going to happen. So he made a very, very brave choice. He chose to charge the front of the airplane with some other very brave people. They took it over, and the plane crashed. And instead of it hitting a big building with lots and lots of people, it crashed in a big field. They made the choice to be brave, and they saved a lot of people’s lives.”

“Mommy, are you crying because you’re sad?”

“Yup, buddy. I’m crying because I’m sad. I get sad whenever I think of that terrible day. But you know what? I’m also crying because I’m happy. I am so happy to live in a country that is full of people who are so good and so brave. You know what? If your daddy had been on that plane, he would have been brave like that. I want you guys to remember that day. It’s okay if you get a little sad. I do, too. But I want you to remember the heroes of that day.”

And so on September 11th, we will proudly hang out flag outside. We will remember.

We won’t think about the men who hijacked the planes that day. I don’t know their names, and I don’t care to.

But we will remember Todd Beamer. We will remember Mark Bingham and Tom Burnett and Jeremy Glick.

We will remember the countless people who ran up burning staircases instead of down.

We will remember the firemen.

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And for this week’s service challenge, we honored our local heroes. We told our firemen that we are grateful for their training, and their service, and their sacrifice. Because if my car crashed, or my child stopped breathing, or my house was on fire, my firemen are only a mile away. They would be the first ones to help.

If I were trapped on the second story of a building, they would rush up the burning staircase to save me.

They are our everyday heroes.

We put together a basket of goodies for them to keep on hand, particularly for when they arrive back from an emergency situation tired and hungry.

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My children colored pictures, thanking them for their service.

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We visited them to personally tell them thank you. And let me tell you what – they are awesome. I’m SO glad we went. They were kind, they were friendly, and they were very appreciative. They gave my kids a tour and let them hop into the fire truck. It’s a service project my family will remember.

This week, I challenge you to do the same. Visit your local fire station. Write a note or a card or have your children color a picture. Bring goodies, bring water bottles, or just show up with your sincere thanks. Shake their hands. Introduce yourself, and tell them how very grateful you are for their service and their sacrifice. Tell them that their heroism and bravery does not go unnoticed.

Thank a fireman.

Do what the heroes of September 11th would do – cherish your loved ones.

And … remember.

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