"September 11, 2001" (Carolyn Le )
The little boy held tightly to his grandfather's hand as they walked slowly along the city street. "Where are we going, Papa?" he asked, craning his neck to look up at the old man's face.
"Ah," the grandfather said, stopping and bending at his waist. "You are so curious about where we are going that you forget to see what's around you." The old man's eyes twinkled as he winked at his grandson.
The boy felt safe and loved when he was with his grandfather. In the old man's eyes, he saw secrets that were so special and wonderful that it made him feel lucky to share them.
"You must never forget that life happens all around us, all the time. Now look around and tell me what you see?"
The boy turned in a circle. "I see shops and cars. Um, people and dogs. I see trees and buildings. Tall, tall buildings."
Both grandfather and son stopped to tilt their heads back as they looked high up to where the buildings seemed to stretch beyond the earth and brush against the sky.
The boy squinted against the brilliant blue of the September morning and began to feel dizzy. "Whoa, that could make me faint!" he said.
"Hmm," the old man rubbed the whiskers of his chin in mock concentration. "What might make you feel better?"
"Ice cream!" the boy said, tugging on his grandfather's hand.
"Look how lucky we are. Here is a man selling ice cream on the corner."
They both licked their cones and the old man brought the boy to a special spot. He put both arms on the boy's shoulders, turning him so that he faced away from the street and toward a huge empty space.
"What do you see?"
The boy was confused. There was nothing here but a flat, empty space. "I see nothing, Papa."
The old man kneeled down beside the boy. "Close your eyes. Keep them closed and look again."
"Papa, how can I see if my eyes are closed?" The boy brought the tip of his chocolate swirl into his nose, giggling at his clever joke.
The old man whispered into the boy's ear. "Imagine a September morning, even more beautiful than this one. Something bad happens and two tall buildings are hit by planes and fall to the ground."
"I don't like imagining these things," the boy said softly.
"I know, but open your eyes and imagine those two buildings, taller even than the blue sky above, are still there in front of you."
The boy slowly opened his eyes. Instead of the empty space there had been, he saw two shining towers rising higher than even the birds could fly.
"Now," the old man said. "Look around you again and tell me what you see."
The boy turned and looked into the faces of people. He saw pale faces and dark faces, brown hair, blond and black. He saw men, women and children. He heard a barking dog and the music of a hundred languages. He saw a soldier standing and saluting.
The boy understood what his grandfather was saying. "All the people, Papa. They see the towers too."
"That's it, my boy. They might fall but what never dies is hope — what never dies is love. What made this country special, what made it a place for my own mama and papa to come to, is the life and peace you see all around you. That freedom can never be destroyed — not even by a thousand airplanes."
The boy reached up and took his grandfather's hand. They each said a silent prayer before continuing their walk down the street. "Papa," the boy said, looking up.
"Yes, my dear boy?"
"I love our walks," he said, crunching the last of his cone.
"I do too," the old man said.
On Sept. 11, 2001, nearly 3,000 people were killed in a terrorist attack on the twin towers in New York City. Sunday, Patriot Day, is the 10th anniversary of that attack.
Special thanks to Carolyn Le for her illustration. To see more of her work, visit coroflot.com/crlynle.
For more Kids' Reading Room, visit latimes.com/kids.