One year ago today, at 11:45 pm, my wife gave birth to our son, Baz. (His actual name is Benedict, but his mom is Australian—hence Baz.) He was almost two weeks overdue, so we induced labor. We didn’t even think about what day it was. Only after he was out, and checked out, and cleaned up, and bundled up, did one of the nurses start in on the paperwork.
When she came to the part about his time-of-birth, she looked over at us and said, a little uncomfortably: “We can put him down as September 12th if you want.”
We thought about it—but not for very long. We would stick to the facts. Our son would be a 9/11 baby. (That’s him in the photo above.)
I totally understand why the nurse offered. Even as she said it, I thought about the long string of bittersweet birthdays ahead of Baz. I was born on June 26, which is about as innocuous a date as you could come up with. There have been some plane crashes on June 26, a few battles, the Roman Emperor Julian was killed, Madagascar declared independence from France, and that’s about it. I know someone born on September 11th, and when he told me his birthday I winced in sympathy and silently thanked God it wasn’t me.
But now Baz is that guy: He’s going to go through his whole life hearing his birthday spoken of in tones of doom and tragedy. He’ll never have a birthday that’s 100 percent joyful. It seems like a lot to lay on a baby. Happy Birthday, son! It’s a national day of mourning!
We could have said yes to the nurse. We might even have kidded ourselves that maybe in all the fuss and chaos we got it wrong, maybe the birth didn’t actually happen till after midnight. But I was in New York City on September 11, 2001. I saw the first tower burning from the Manhattan Bridge as I rode in to work on the D train, the last train to cross the bridge that morning. That night I walked back across the bridge to get home, with a tremendous pall of choking smoke hanging overhead, and FDR Drive eerily empty of traffic, and red ambulance lights streaking across the Brooklyn Bridge opposite. At that moment New York City felt like a dead place, a tomb, and the sooner we abandoned it the better.
That was, of course, what we were supposed to feel. But it wasn’t true then, and it’s not true now. September 11th was a tragedy, but I can’t think of a better way to remember and honor those who died than by making a new life. That’s what we did, and I’m pretty proud of it.
I hope Baz will learn to be proud of it, too. I’m sure he won’t be at first—that’s a pretty tough lesson for a little kid to learn. But if he can embrace it he might start to feel like being born on September 11th is a special thing: his birthday isn’t just a birthday, it’s a celebration of hope and renewal and resilience. When we chose to stick with the real date, we were placing a burden on our newborn baby, but I hope we were also giving him a gift—the first of many. Happy birthday, son. And many happy returns.