We talk about superheros a lot at our house. Mostly the conversation is about the fictional members of the Justice League, but every so often I decide that it might be nice if we talked about REAL superheros, about people who have devoted themselves to helping others and making the world a better place. We talk about doctors and soldiers and firefighters. The firefighters are the most interesting to my boys, probably because they are the most accessible; we see fire trucks all the time, and we often run into firefighters at the grocery. In our neighborhood, the firefighters are mostly young men, and they always have time to say hello and give the boys a high five. For my sons, firefighters are real people and it’s hard for the boys to imagine them as heroes.
Both of my sons attend schools where prayer is part of their day. On the way to school this morning, I realized that they would, most likely, pray today for the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and for the families and friends they left behind. I’ve talked to the boys about 9/11 before, in ways that I hope they can understand. We talk about the planes that crashed in New York and Washington DC and Pennsylvania; we’ve talked about the people who died in those crashes. We’ve talked about how the men who hijacked the planes were trying to make a point, but that instead of using their words they used the airplanes. Mostly, though, we have talked about the heroes, about firefighters and police officers and regular people who stopped what they were doing and ran to help. We talk about the firefighters who went INTO the burning buildings when everyone else was running OUT. We have talked about how those men and women were heroes not because they had super powers but because they risked their own lives to help someone else.
Today, I reminded the boys about the 9/11 attacks, and about the firefighters (who had mommies and daddies and little buddies of their own at home) who lost their lives doing something incredibly heroic. I told the boys that they might pray for those families, those mommies and daddies and buddies, at school today. I told them to remember that those firefighters were real heroes because after the planes crashed and the buildings were burning and falling down, the firefighters raced in to help, even though they knew it was dangerous.
Henry said, “But why would they do that?”
I said, “Because that’s what heroes do, buddy.”
“No,” he said, “not the firefighters. They were trying to save people. Why did those men crash the planes into the buildings? Why did they do that?”
It’s hard for me to talk to my sons about that part of the story, to explain why someone would hate anyone so much that the death of thousands of people would seem like a reasonable thing. I don’t want my sons to be afraid; I want them to be compassionate, to see the good in people, to see the heroism in the world around them. I want them not to fear the terrorists but to respect and honor the heroes.
“It’s hard to explain, buddy,” I told him.
“Oh,” he said. “It’s a good thing those firefighters were there, isn’t it?”
“Yes. It is.”