Thursday, September 11, 2014

Thankful Thursday - 9/11

I settled in at the barber shop this morning, waiting for my barber, Rodney, to be done with the client in his chair. I pulled out my cell phone and started to play Spider Solitaire, listening only intermittently to their conversation.

The five barbers were taking turns saying where they had been on September 11th. No one has to add the year when that date is mentioned. One young man said he was in elementary school, and he remembers being able to go home early that day. The rest of them laughed at his youth and innocence. Then the laughing stopped and silence descended for a few seconds. Clumsily, the chatter started up again. Tears began to well up in my eyes as I thought about where I was on that fateful day thirteen years ago today.

September 11th, 2001, was a beautiful Tuesday in Norwalk, Connecticut. The sun sparkled in the cloudless sky. I was in the basement of our raised ranch at the corner of North Seir Hill and Grey Hollow Roads - and I wasn't alone. My two children were with me in our homeschool room. Kristiana was 7 and Daniel was 4. We had begun our daily lessons and were happily buzzing through math problems or spelling or science when the phone rang.

I thought, "Everybody who knows me knows that I'm homeschooling right now. So I will let the call go to the answering machine. Wait - everybody who knows me knows that I'm homeschooling right now, so I probably should answer because this must be something I need to handle now."

It was a friend from church, Dianne. She said, "I know you're homeschooling, but you need to turn on the television. There's been an accident at the World Trade Center."

I walked out of the homeschool room into the family room and turned on the television. My children followed me - I'm sure they were wondering why Mom was turning on the television during homeschool time. Just as the picture came into the focus, the second plane hit the second tower. I told Dianne what I had seen, and she said, "No, you're probably watching a replay of the first one." I said, "No, Dianne, both towers have been hit."

I don't remember hanging up the phone, but I do remember falling onto my knees and weeping loud anguished, deeply guttural wails. My children wrapped themselves around me and asked what was wrong.

Oh, crap. My kids. I have to pull it together for my kids.

I told them that there had been a plane accident and we needed to pray for the people involved. I didn't tell them that it was intentional. I didn't tell them that it was less than two hours from where we lived. I didn't tell them that I was terrified. I didn't tell them that I was worried about where their father was. I mean, I knew that he worked in Stamford, only 25 minutes from our home. I knew that there was no reason for him to have been in NYC, but I still needed to hear his voice. I needed to know he was okay. I called his cell phone. He was right where he was supposed to be - at the office in Stamford. He and his office mates were watching the horror unfold on a television in one of the conference rooms there.

I hung up from talking to him. I wiped my eyes. I blew my nose. And I got back to homeschooling the kids - with sorrow welling up, with tears brimming over, with a heart shattered with grief and fear and worry, and with my soul still on its knees, pleading for mercy and strength and restraint and rescue.

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

A couple hours later, I took the kids for a walk in our quiet neighborhood. For most of our walk, I didn't see anyone. When I did see someone standing outside of the clubhouse of a nearby golf course, I commented on the beauty of the day. And then I said, "It's hard to believe what's happening in NY and Washington on this gorgeous day." We both nodded somberly. The kids and I walked on.

It was six months later, in March of 2002, when I took Kristiana down to Brooklyn to see my Mom. As we drove along the East River towards the Brooklyn Bridge, I pointed out the gaping hole in the skyline and asked her, "Do you remember that day when I told you there had been an airplane accident in New York?" Of course she remembered. I told her that the buildings that had been destroyed had been right there. And it wasn't an accident. That people crashed those planes on purpose. She stared silently at the sky. We both did.

It's hard to come up with a list of things to be thankful for from that day. Anything I write will seem trite, trivial, dismissive, insulting in the face of all the people that were lost, the buildings that collapsed, the sorrow that befell this nation that day. Not to mention all the war and death and torture and mistrust and hatred that have followed from that day's events.

But if we give up on hope, joy, love, and gratitude, then fear wins. And we know that fear can't win. We know that love wins. Hope wins. Laughter wins. Joy wins. Gratitude wins.

I am grateful that I was homeschooling that day and that I didn't have to go get my children from school. I am grateful that homeschooling allowed me to delay talking to my children about terrorism and what 9/11 meant for months.

I am grateful that my brother, the one closest to me in age, who was on his way to work in lower Manhattan that day, missed his New Jersey Transit train. His designated train station was below the World Trade Center.

I am grateful that my oldest brother no longer worked at the World Trade Center. Several years before, he worked on one of the highest levels in one of the towers. Above the 90th floor.

I am grateful for every person who missed a train or bus, who couldn't catch a taxi, who somehow didn't make it to work in the two towers that morning.

I am grateful for all the people who were able to get down and out of the buildings before the collapse.

I am grateful for the bravery of those who rushed in to help others, for the fireman and policemen and civilians who were on their way up the stairs while so many others ran down.

I am grateful for the courage of the passengers and crew on Flight 93 who took their hijacked plane down into the fields of Pennsylvania, preventing a different, more destructive crash.

I am grateful for the ways in which people who were not directly affected by those events stepped into the lives of those who were and provided love and support and a safe place to grieve.

I'm grateful for the people whose lives were directly affected and how they reached out to others even in their own grief.

I am grateful that the names of those killed that day are still read aloud every year.

I am grateful that there are people who will not let us forget.

I am grateful for the open eyes and hearts that those tragic moments have created - open to the world, open to the way this nation is seen by the world, open to learn about the ways that our way of life affect people in other places, open to the idea of reaching across cultural, national, religious, and person lines in order to understand where and how such anger and hatred can fester internally and then explode - and open to the need for peace, for trust, for forgiveness, and for asking to be forgiven.

I pray that the names of the many thousands, some estimate that there are hundreds of thousands, of people who have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since that day will be read aloud as well. And those who have died in Ukraine, in Israel, in Gaza, in Syria, in Liberia, in Congo, in Spain, in Italy, in India, in Pakistan, in Libya, in France, on the streets of this nation - and all over the world. We can all name people lost to car or airplane or bus or train crashes, to addiction, to illness, to violence, to starvation, to suicide, to old age, to dementia, to racism, to anti-Semitism, to more causes than I can name here. Death happens. Death is coming for all of us.

May we all be remembered with love. With prayers. With smiles. With tears.

Thirteen years ago today, life in these United States of America and in much of the world, changed suddenly and permanently. The cause for that change was tragic. The way forward doesn't have to be. As Alice Walker wrote, "The way forward is with a broken heart." Brokenhearted though we may be, let us move forward.

The question I keep asking is - how now shall we live? How will we live out the days that remain? I don't know about you, but I plan to live a life marked by faith, by hope, by joy, by love, and by gratitude.

PS. What she said... Patti Digh, you inspire me, challenge me, and make me think hard. Big time.

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