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Saying goodbye to one set of twins, and hello to another

"It's been ten whole years already? Wow! Hard to believe."

Many a father will say something like that while shaking his head in disbelief, when his oldest approaches the 10th birthday. It's a milestone, not just for the kid, but for the parents. It's a head-shaker because I am reminded that on that day, 10 years ago, my life changed forever. In some ways, it has passed very quickly.  In other ways, it seems like it's been every bit of ten years.

There are two distinct things, though, about the ten-year anniversary of my dadhood. The first is that I became a father of not one, but two little bundles of joy that Tuesday morning. Abby was born at 8:48, followed by her brother Jacob at 8:50.

The second is that their birth marked some rare joy in the midst of the darkest day in our nation's history.  As my wife was in labor, a nurse came in and told us that an airplane had crashed into a skyscraper in New York. I turned on the labor room TV in order to find out details. But a minute later, a painful contraction led to a gentle but firm request that I switch off the TV and hold her hand. (I'm not sure how my hand-holding could make contractions better, but I had seen enough sitcoms to know that when your wife is in labor, you should be as accommodating as you can.)

So off went the TV, and the plane incident was completely gone from my mind as we went into the operating room. I scrubbed my hands, paying attention to instructions from the nurse to get the dirt that was under my fingernails. I watched as the anesthesiologist stuck a needle in Beth's back. A few minutes later, I held her hand while chatting with the the same anesthesiologist as the surgeon and nurses prepared for the Caesarian.

Before long, the nurse tapped me on the shoulder to alert me to a beautiful sight. I think my heart stopped momentarily as I saw my crying little girl, Abby. Her cry was so sad, and I melted. Her brother came out crying, too, but his cry was an angry one, and I chuckled.  I was told they checked out just fine, and everything was right with the world. As far as I knew.


Once back in the hospital room, I started calling relatives, hoping they'd all be thrilled at the news I had for them. But the first one I spoke to, my brother-in-law, told me that our nation was under attack, and one of the World Trade Center buildings had fallen to the ground as the other one burned.

Wait, he said. Hold that thought. Silence.

As we were on the phone, the other tower fell. "There is no more World Trade Center", he said.

This is embarrassing to admit, but as I hung up the phone, I was ticked at the timing. How dare someone steal my special day!  I was now a dad, and everyone's mind was on something else! In hindsight, my selfishness that day was appalling, and I hate to admit it now, even in writing.

It took some time, but I have come to embrace Abby and Jacob's special birthday. One thing that saddens me is that that attack is referred to by its date. People don't refer to, for example, Pearl Harbor as the "December 7 Attacks." I have a sister who was born April 19, but nobody hears that and immediately thinks of the Oklahoma City bombing.  But for some reason, this one is named after the date in which it occurred. If you say 9/11, everyone thinks of a terrible event, not just a date. And every year as their birthday approaches, the TV news speaks of the tragedy and the lives lost. I'm guessing that will increase dramatically for the 10th anniversary.

But it doesn't end there. The pregnancy itself was bookended by tragedies. Back in January, when the OB/GYN determined the beginning date of the pregnancy (necessary to predict the due date 40 weeks later), she marked it as December 22, 2000. That happens to be the day my father took his own life. I had never known him very well, but I had hopes that grandkids might remove some of the bricks in the wall between he and I.  That chance was gone forever when he shot himself.

It was rough in other ways.  I was unemployed when they were born, having been laid off the week before. The added responsibility of two new lives who I couldn't even provide for was an enormous weight.

It should be noted that the 5 weeks of unemployment turned out to be a huge blessing, as Beth needed me around the clock as we tried to figure out how to take care of two new babies. And I got a better job just about the time she felt she could handle them for 8 hours by herself. But the day I got laid off, I didn't see it as the gift from God that it was. I was selfishly unhappy with God; yet another embarrassing thing to admit.

So how do we process this? I'd like to think that God has a purpose for even the details, so perhaps their birthdate is no coincidence. But as the Double Rainbow Guy would say, what does it mean?

Is there something to the fact that they are twins, and the WTC buildings were known as the Twin Towers?

Was it just a matter of adding a joyful event in an otherwise joyless day? Was God even involved in the timing?

Is there significance to their names? Abigail means "Father's Joy", and she has certainly lived up to her name.  And Jacob, of course, means Israel, the nation that was going to bless the rest of the world. Will their generation be the one which will be a blessing to all the others?

One thing is clear: the world changed that day, and not just for me, the new unemployed dad. My kids are at the beginning of a new, post-9/11 generation. One which has a chance of leading our nation and world into change; specifically, change for the better.

A generation which never experienced, as I had, the comfort of knowing that the US doesn't get attacked on its own soil.

One which accepts the reality that it will always have to remove shoes at the airport, because it has never known it to be otherwise.

One which can take its awareness that devastating attacks happen, and do some good with that understanding.

I recently was hit hard by this verse:

Psalm 24:6 "This is the generation of those who seek Him, who seek Your face--even Jacob."


Did that verse about a generation that would seek Him actually end with "even Jacob"?  I'm holding onto that one. For hope's sake.

Bonus: In 2002, the Dallas paper featured a letter I wrote for the one-year anniversary. Here's the PDF. I like the picture.


Karen said…
Loved this post, JW. Especially love the honesty about how difficult it is to admit your own conflicted emotions surrounding that day. I did a story ten years ago about a man, who fell from a horse and broke his neck ala Christopher Reeve style, and the thing that struck me about the story was how he was totally oblivious to the tragedy of 9-11 because he was dealing with his own tragic near-death experience. Hospitals across this nation were treating people who were dying and those who were being born on 9/11. You raise a compelling question of why do we refer to it by the date and not by some other title?
Having raised twins, I rejoice with you in your children's birthday.
James said…
Thank you, Karen!
Jo Hilder said…
This is so personal, and so truthful James. I don't like to call that incident by it's date coincidentally for the reason you have for not doing it - when a tragedy owns a date, it takes any possibility of making that day a joyful one away from anyone unfortunate enough to share it. Hope the 11th is a lovely celebration for your family, as it ought to be :)
YerMom said…
My son was born on 9/5/01 and it's been a decade for us as well. I remember nursing him at six days old and staring in horror at the tv. I started crying and apologizing over and over, for the world he'd just been born into, I suppose. I will never forget it which makes it more than a little disconcerting to have a bunch of grief reminders on cue every year not just on the day, but a week ahead of time. Really, the event is in no real danger of being forgotten at this point. I wish it hadn't taken on such mythology, but there it is. And I, too, wish everyone had been celebrating the birth of my child, but as far as he's concerned, they were. :)
A Joyful Noise said…
What an amazing recount of the birth of your twins and the events preceeding their birth. Out of work, but your wife needed you to help her get used to two babies. Then a better job - That sounds to me like God working all things together for good to those who love the Lord.
Niki said…
Wow! What a story! It is so amazing how different people can have such different reactions to the same story!! I really enjoyed reading your memory of that day.

Visiting from your Stuff Christians Like link.

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