Sunday, September 11, 2011

Juliana at four, and forever

She would have been 14 this year.

Maybe she would have squealed with victory as her angry birds successfully brought ruin to those pigs on her iPod. Maybe she would have been a "Belieber." Maybe been mortified by a bad hair day. Maybe this fall, as a freshman in high school, she would have developed a crush on a cute sophomore.

But she died in the second plane to hit the World Trade Center 10 years ago, at the age of four, so she will never do any of those things.

Her name was Juliana, and her mom was taking her to California to visit Disneyland for the first time.

Back in the horrible days following the attacks, her name jumped out at me from the newspaper, from among the hundreds of profiles of the 9/11 dead. Her middle name was Valentine, it said. She was four years old.

That's when my blood ran cold. My own daughter was four years old.

The thought kept echoing in my head—they killed a four year old. And they reportedly yelled how great god was while they did it.

I like to imagine what god was yelling back right about then.

It is hard to hold 2,977 people in your heart at once. That is why, on 9/11, Juliana represents them all to me. Every 9/11 I pull up Juliana's picture, and I imagine what her life might have been like now.

One life is an entire world, and its absence, while unfelt by most of us, has monumental repercussions. I can't help but think there is a teenager out there somewhere right now, maybe in Juliana's native Connecticut, who would have married her some day, but won't; will never even know her name.

Her grandchildren, whom Juliana would have spoiled with ice cream before dinner or with too much birthday money, will never exist. The concerto she might have written, the cure she might have discovered, the thousands of students she might have taught; these will not be.

They say an assassin's bullet never changed the course of history. The course, the ultimate arc, maybe not. But down here inside history, where you and I live, a life gone is a whole world gone.

So I celebrate Juliana's world today, and my daughter's. I see in my girl, in her playful sense of humor and growing adolescent maturity, in her raging passion for social media, the Juliana who will never be.

Not only were both girls four when the attacks occurred, both born in 1997, I recently discovered they were born one mere day apart. Juliana arrived one day earlier.

Perhaps that is why, when her lovely, small face shone up at me from that newspaper in 2001, I felt such a chill. She could just as easily have been mine.

And so I honor her memory every 9/11, for all the victims, and I always will.

This year, especially, please accept these words as my own little personal Juliana Valentine.

. . .