Ed Grisamore

The joy of a Warner Robins teen’s birth came on day of great sadness for others

Wesley McDowell soon will come full circle.

He was born at Northside Hospital in Macon. He attended Northside Elementary School, Northside Middle School and will graduate from Northside High School in May. He and his family are members of Northside Baptist Church in Warner Robins.

He also is the answer to a trivia question. He was one of the last babies born at Coliseum Northside Hospital before the labor and delivery wing was converted to a same-day surgery center.

Wesley arrived 29 minutes after midnight. But the time on the clock was not as significant as the date on the calendar.

Sept. 11, 2001.

“A terrible … awful … wonderful day,” said his mother, Beth Burdeshaw Wilson.

Wesley was supposed to hit the world’s entrance ramp on Oct. 1. The due date was moved up to Sept. 24, then Sept. 16. Doctors began inducing labor on Sept. 10.

It was the day his sister, Torrey, turned 10 years old. Beth thought it was extra special her children would share the same birthday a decade apart.

But while Beth labored, Wesley loitered. He wasn’t born until almost a half-hour after midnight.

The next morning, Beth was breast-feeding her newborn while watching “Today” in her hospital room. At 8:46 a.m., terrorists crashed a plane into the World Trade Center in New York. Another highjacked plane hit the second tower 17 minutes later.

Beth was shaking as the TV cameras showed a person jumping out of a window, like some Hollywood stuntman.

“It was heartbreaking,’’ she said. “I remember looking down at (Wesley) and saying, ‘Your world has just changed.’ ’’

Wesley will be 18 years old in a few days. He will become a “legal” adult. He will be old enough to vote, get married and join the military.

He is one of 13,238 babies born in the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, the day the terrorist attacks killed 2,977 people. Everyone born that day carries a permanent scar, the birthmark of a tragedy.

Wesley has been leader of the mellophone section in Northside’s marching band for the past two years. He loves bowling and working on computers. He runs the sound booth at his church.

He said young people of his generation have little or no familiarity with 9/11, except from the stories they have been told by their parents or read about in history books.

Only a handful of seniors in any high school class this year would have been born prior to 9/11. The grade-level, cut-off date for most school systems is Sept. 1.

“The realization of being born on 9/11 has kind of gotten insignificant for some people in the past three or four years,’’ Wesley said. “They’re not really that into it anymore. My birthday is becoming less of a day of dread, but I just don’t think something like that should ever be forgotten.’’

Beth made the decision not to tell him until he was old enough to understand.

“He was 6 or 7 when I finally told him Patriot Day was not a celebration of his birthday,’’ she said.

It almost was like being born with a curse. Beth said a nurse offered to “set back the clock” on Wesley’s birth certificate. Beth said no. She wanted it to be not so much of a statement of shame but an affirmation that life goes on.

“I didn’t think it was right to change his birth date,’’ she said. “If I was to falsify the record, it would have almost negated it, because something really good happened that day.’’

Once, Beth was in the check-out line at Walmart when a woman overheard her tell the cashier her child had been born on 9/11. The woman became irate and said she had a relative who died in the terrorist attacks. She became so vocal, a store security officer escorted Beth to her car.

It never was easy for Beth to fill out forms or answer questions about Wesley’s date of birth at school or the doctor’s office.

“They were fine with his birthday until I said the year,’’ she said. “Then it was oooooohhhhhh. I got to where I didn’t say 9/11. I would say Sept. 11. When he was little, I just said September (2001) and didn’t give the date until they asked because I didn’t want the oooooohhhhhh.’’

Every now and then, she still hears an oooooohhhhhh.

Beth still grieves for those families who lost loved ones that day. She said she is “inspired” by those who did not find themselves in harm’s way because they happened to be late to work. Or called in sick. Or missed their flight.

“I can only see God in all of that,’’ she said. “And then I look at (Wesley), and I can’t ever call it a terrible, horrible day. It was a wonderful day … because I have him.’’

Ed Grisamore teaches journalism at Stratford Academy in Macon. His column appears on Sundays in The Telegraph.