This morning we arrived at 10am for our annual visit... me, my two littles. I've been bringing them here since they were babies; going on nine years now. It's a tradition I cherish, yet it's one I wish didn't have cause to exist.
Upon arrival today, asking my nearly six year old son not to run, through these wide open stretches of grassy fields and rows of colorful flags, is laughable and utterly futile. Still, I try. I attempt to wrangle in his carefree spirit, his unbridled energy, his "live in the moment" attitude.
I do so out of respect to the other visitors there in reflective moments and quiet contemplation. I plead my case calmly and carefully, not to disturb any of them myself, but the ocean breezes muffle the sound of my restrained voice and thus carry my request silently away with them down the coast.
So, he runs. Up and down the rows and rows of flags. He knows this place. It's familiar. He remembers coming here right around his birthday each year, and it's comforting to him. Every September, he tells me he's excited when "the flags" go up, looking forward to our impending visit.
Even though I have told him why these flags are erected each year, and why we visit them year after year, the tragic reality for which they memorialize is a bit too much for him to fully wrap his brain around. Kind of like how the idea of even having to explain such a thing to my kids is a bit surreal for me.
Yet my older daughter used to do the exact same thing, as she too has been coming since she was only a year old. First walking slowly and holding on to the flagpoles for support as a little toddler, she inevitably began to run free through the flags just as he does.
Now almost ten years old, she is able to calmly walk alongside me and understand why we are there. She knows what happened on this day fifteen years ago and how it affected all Americans, our country, and the world.
I know, of course, that my son will come to understand this too, in time. But for now, for today, he runs.