“On September 11, 2001, 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda hijacked four airliners and carried out suicide attacks against targets in the United States. Two of the planes were flown into the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, a third plane hit the Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C., and the fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. Often referred to as 9/11, the attacks resulted in extensive death and destruction, triggering major U.S. initiatives to combat terrorism and defining the presidency of George W. Bush. Over 3,000 people were killed during the attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., including more than 400 police officers and firefighters.” (History Channel)
I clearly remember this day because the night before I was called to the hospital as my wife and I were expecting our first child, Nathaniel Wyatt Brown. I had worked for the YMCA for 12 years at the time, serving children and families throughout my career. I was contacted by my office staff at the YMCA in Houston and rushed to the hospital only to find my wife in tears. You see it was just that weekend that family from Georgia came to visit, as Nathan was due in just a few weeks. We spent the weekend putting up his new crib, painting the walls and getting his room ready. I was excited to be a father and long waited the day he would come into my life. This was a time where I could take all that I learned about children, finally to hold my own. We took our pictures that weekend – you know the ones with the belly shots to share with Nathan when he was older. We were running around preparing everything for his arrival. I remember family checking on airfares and securing their spot for this occasion. We were so happy to be parents and couldn’t hold ourselves together as we got closer to the date.
As I arrived at the hospital I was positive that it was time. My wife was crying they said, as I walked into her room. Several doctors and nurses were looking at me as I moved closer to my wife. The tears were not the tears of joy I expected them to be; they were the tears of fear and pain, the kind you know when something is wrong. September 10, 2001 the doctors confirmed that Nathan had died. While I fell into my wife’s arms and cried with her I knew that God would give us the strength to move through this, but somewhere in my inner soul I just new the doctors were wrong.
The hard part was delivering a baby naturally that all those in the room say had died. I yelled to God, I screamed for Nathan to come out and cry, but heard nothing upon his arrival. It hurt and it made me empty inside. I put my arms out and asked to hold him. “Just let me hold him,” I kept yelling. When they placed Nathan in my arms I could feel his tiny hands, I held him and rocked him as if he had just taken a nap. My wife and I stayed with Nathan for several hours until it was time for them to take him away. I had to call all our family to tell them the news and of course they immediately got their flights arranged for the next morning. Left feeling empty we sat in the hospital room and went to sleep looking forward to having our family at our side. They were all coming from Baltimore, Georgia, and California until we woke up that next day.
I remember September 11, 2001 as I lay with my wife and watched the tragedy that was occurring in our country. I kept thinking, “How could this be?” Flights were cancelled, family couldn’t get here, and thousands of people were dying right before my eyes. I remember us in tears holding each other’s hands and feeling a moment of closeness that put all the tragedy of our own son in a light of hope that I never expected to feel. You see at that moment I knew that Nathaniel needed to go from us as he was going to be with them. The parents who lost their lives on 9/11 would soon be with our Nathan. But more importantly it brought hope to my heart that while the pain of losing our son was so strong, the purpose and path that would take place in our lives next would further define who we were.
Until that day I didn’t understand the true meaning of family and the bond of love that I felt and needed from them. I had spent my life building a career and moving ahead in my work with people and I had lost the importance of family. Family is one of the most critical aspects of defining love, hope, and vision for our future. Our family is what brings us together and provides us the foundation of who we are today. Loosing Nathan is a memory I can never forget, but learning about the importance of family is how I choose to remember him. My life is far from perfect but my ability to understand how to love my family can never be taken away.
This day will forever be burned into my memory and permanently in my heart. Love someone, thank someone, give prayer to someone, do for someone as we do not know what tomorrow will hold but we are in control of today.