Six years ago today, my wife, Collette and I received the most beautiful gift anybody could ever get: two healthy, beautiful twin daughters!
Luckily, they had their mother’s good looks and weren’t burdened with the ol’ Filipkowski Honker.
I have never experienced joy like I still get each time I look into their beautiful blue eyes.
Which is why their birth was so bittersweet.
On the day of our nation’s greatest tragedy, we sat in our little hospital room, holding our little bundled-up babies, desperately wondering what kind of world they were going to live in.
We had decided on their names a few days after we saw our first sonogram, but under the circumstances, passing on traditions didn’t seem as important as honoring fallen heroes and the country they had died for.
We proudly presented our beautiful new babies to our friends and family and everyone applauded our decision to name them “America” and “Freedom”.
It was a time for us all to do our part, however little or adorable those parts may be.
I had covered the Suburban in yellow ribbon magnets to let everyone know I supported the troops. We flew a big flag in the front yard. I don’t think our TV showed anything but CNN or Fox News for weeks.
Those first few months, we would strike up conversations with strangers in the grocery store and everybody loved the names we had chosen and deemed them fitting reminders that this was, indeed, “the day when everything changed.”
“The day we’d all remember.”
The problem is… (how do I put this?) …people forgot.
I’m not here to blame anyone, but you would hear it around town or down at the office. People complaining about President Bush. Conspiracy theories. Later on, it was the war in Iraq. No Osama Bin Laden. Pat Tillman.
Then it was OK to laugh again. I know that’s a good thing, but not when it replaces that somberness, that sincerity of people wanting to change their lives and change the world. I miss it.
The news went back to being fluff pieces about celebrities.
People stopped caring.
Like I said, I’m not blaming anyone. I suppose it’s natural.
But instead of unabashed praise and enthusiasm, my daughters’ names were now garnering raised eyebrows and skepticism.
“Really? Those are their real names?” asked one woman in the grocery store.
Instead of being a start to a conversation about shared experiences, I found myself defending our decision and trying in vain to remind people that things were now different.
Around the time they were just starting to speak, we made the decision.
Collette had decided it was unfair for us to burden them with the kind of social ostracizing they were bound to face once they started school.
They were young. They barely connected those words with the idea that that’s who they were. They would learn their new names, in time.
The worst part was the letter. We sent out a form letter informing all of our friends and relatives of the change, instructing them not to mention it to the girls when they got older. We avoided everybody for a while after that letter.
Nobody brought it up, they’ve been good about that. It’s just weird, I guess.
I’ve often pondered the eternal question, “what’s in a name?”
I love my daughters. They are my whole world.
And maybe that’s the problem?
Maybe we all make the same decisions based on this murky, moral calculus. You can’t save everybody. You can’t change the world. So you make “your world” less about what’s going on out there and more about what’s going on in your own home.
Still, I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t love “Freedom” and “America” just a little less now that they’re “Tiff’nee” and “Amber.”