Driving home from New Jersey last Saturday night, my six-year-old son Jack looked toward the twinkling Manhattan skyline ahead and asked what those blinking red lights were, you know, “the ones way up high, close to the spire of the Empire State building.”
“Those are lights that let planes know they’re flying too close to a building,” my husband Tom said. “They help pilots avoid crashing into skyscrapers.”
“Oh,” Jack said, reveling in this new bit of trivia. “I guess they didn’t have those during 9/11. If they did, those pilots wouldn’t have crashed into the World Trade Center, right?”
My husband and I turned toward each other in the front seat, and I’m pretty sure we had the exact same expression on our faces—that of shock and delight at our child’s innocence. Basking in that warm and rosy glow of a child who can’t even comprehend why anyone would ever purposely fly a plane filled with people into a building filled with people, my husband softly responded, “Yeah. Something like that.”
Satisfied with that answer, Jack went back to poking his sister in her car seat.
“Wow,” Tom whispered. “He can’t yet comprehend that a person would actually do something that terrible.”
“I know,” I said. “But neither could we until it actually happened.”
After that exchange it occurred to me that in our lifetimes, we lose our innocence many times over. Even as adults. Evil comes at us in new and awful ways that are as startling as they are incomprehensible. And that’s what it’s been like for me writing about the Holocaust. Even though I know so much about it from years of reading and research, I continue to discover new and different ways in which the Nazis committed their dastardly deeds. It shouldn’t continue to amaze me, but it does. And I don’t want to lose that innocence. I want to still believe that there is good in this world. For now, I have my children to help me savor that innocence.