It was the winter of 2001. The sky was just breaking out into the day, the sun peeking through scattered clouds of brilliant white. I drove with my two children heading somewhere far away and unimportant. It was the first truck that caught my attention, trailing in the back of a convoy of five. 9/11 had struck into our hearts and shattered safety into a million bits of ignorance across our lives. We were a nation united by tragedy, brought together in a flood of solidarity and patriotism to heal our wounds. The United States was in mourning. Our flag was still waving, but our lives were altered. Americanism was in, the stars and stripes were everywhere. That tragic day in September had made our flag the symbol of hope. It was cool to be square. Commercialism at its finest. We were Americans after all.
I drove behind the camouflaged covered military truck, thinking of all the recent events, my children, and where their lives would lead in light of recent events. In the back sat a soldier, his knees facing inward, across a bench that lined the side of the vehicle. He stared out into the world flashing past him, beyond our car and into an abyss of a changed landscape. I watched him, the gaze of a boy on a mission. His mission. He was in uniform, matching the camouflaged colors of the truck, set on disappearing into a battle I had no knowledge of, nor was I supposed to. Our eyes met, and together we drove, locked in a gaze of unity. I thought about my kids and about life. So much sacrifice, so much unsaid, yet a world of understanding. We were a nation in a battle for our future, struggling to overcome sadness, fear, anger. I wanted to tell him that everything would be okay, even if it was a lie. I wanted to hold him and thank him. To tell him how much I appreciated his choice. Protect. I stared back conveying my hope that he would be okay, we would all be okay. Soon.
Rolling down my window I felt the morning air rush across my body. Filling the car with the frigid cold, my children watched, six eyes now focused as the scene unfolded. As a mother your children are everything, what would tomorrow bring in this state of national uncertainty? There were dreams interrupted, lives on edge. He was a symbol of our future. Success. We would continue, fight, pray. Live. Moving my hand from the steering wheel I raised it out the window, into the roar of traffic that surrounded us, the force of air rolling against my outstretched arm. He was someone’s son, standing up for us all in a battle for freedom. Freedom to breath again, dream, sleep without fear. Our eyes never diverted from each other. He watched, I watched. Pouring out my emotions through my actions I raised my fingers and gave him a peace sign. He sat up straighter, focused, and understood.
Suddenly out of the back of that truck no less than ten hands struck out in answer. Soldiers that could not be seen prior reached out in response, each confirming they had heard, each with two fingers raised in reply. Peace was the message. Driving down the 5 freeway, heading south, I gasped. Cried. We were united. A united state of hope rang out. I heard every word. It was the winter of 2001, and, as one, we took the future into our hands.