This feels like, "Where were you when Kennedy was shot." Today is Tuesday, September 11. On one hand, I feel like life will go on. I will go to seminary and things will proceed as always. But the vulnerable, rather superstitious side of me cannot quite shake the question. Will something happen today like it did on that day? Would we know? How would this Sarah react?
This Sarah is so much different from the younger Sarah. Looking back, that Sarah surprised me--a lot. She was going through intense personal crisis: retiring her three-year-old dog guide, coping with deep loneliness while living alone with chronic migraines and respiratory illness, trying to build a network of friendships in a town where most people related to her by talking to or about her dog. She wasn't always very good at handling her emotions. She cried often. She talked far too much on email groups. The things that gave her a sense of self-confidence were the writing she had done for a blindness site sponsored by About.com, her work with building support groups online for people with disabilities, and her part-time work as a child care provider. But even the child care work was beginning to come to an end. She didn't want to admit it yet. Transportation was difficult to arrange, and she was experiencing personality clashes with some of the new staff.
This Sarah is almost a different person. She has been through things that Sarah would probably think she could never handle: four hurricanes in a month, chronic pain in nearly every joint in her body, three additional surgeries, another early dog retirement, more church changes where people wanted to talk about her dog instead of learning who she is... She cannot hold babies for more than a couple of minutes anymore. If that younger Sarah had foreseen all this, she would have thought she would fall apart. Somehow, this Sarah is generally less demonstrative with her emotions. It isn't that she doesn't care. But the whole world doesn't see the care in raw form. Sometimes she wonders if perhaps they should.
This Sarah has found that sometimes there is one tiny speck of joy in a day, and it must be searched for like a piece of treasure. On her worst days, she plans in advance for finding it--and finding it will be the occasion for a celebration that everyone will know about. Yesterday, she walked into a professor's office and announced, "I am eating a muffin this morning because by the end of the day I will have a reason to have eaten the muffin!" The professor was still there when she found the reason.
Would it have been unfeeling to search for joy on September 11, 2001? Or is a day like that the very reason that we must search for joy?
How easy it is to belittle my past self for this and that! But my past self did not do so badly on September 11. She even thought to write about it... I should honor her today. I should give myself a break from my self-torture and realize what that day did to me.
I was holding a baby on that day. How I came to be holding that baby is a story I will not forget. My church held a women's Bible study on Tuesday mornings; and I was working the toddler nursery. I had been experiencing some conflict with one of the other workers, and I slipped over to the infant room, where there were not enough workers to hold all of the extremely young infants who needed attention. I was worried that I would be chastised for leaving my post; but there were two or three workers in the room and all was in good control. Occasionally, I took my baby over for a visit--if necessary, I could drop her back off in the infant room and return to my post. Eventually, someone told me not to worry about it. I settled down with Ciara in a rocking chair, and for the remaining three hours she alternated between crying and sleeping. Below is the story of what happened in the words of "that Sarah."
It feels silly to post some of this here now; but I must remember that at that time there was a lot of speculation going on about what would happen next. The attacks came one after another after another, and no one understood what was happening or why. All we knew was that they were not accidents. Someone was very angry with America. A lot of jihad propaganda was circulating, and we did not know how to understand of it.
When I went to work today, I never dreamed anything was wrong in America. I never dreamed it, but it was already wrong before I left.
Of course, word travels fast, and it wasn't long before I found out. We turned on the radios in our classrooms and treated our shock and terror like news headlines as we tried to go about business as usual. You had no idea what was going on as I held you, and for a while I could distract myself from my terror by marveling over how much hair you had for a baby so small. I found out later that you were not four months old but seven months old. I still think you have a lot of hair!
At 8:45 this morning, a hijacked plane crashed into one of the two towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. Just 18 minutes later, another plane crashed into the other tower. Shortly after that, a third plane crashed into the Pentagon, and a fourth plane crashed near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Both towers of the World Trade Center collapsed, and there is no telling how many people died because of these events. To me, that seems like trying to count the hairs on my head. Only God knows the truth about those numbers; we can only estimate. But more importantly, He knows the names of each person, and He knows the condition of their hearts and souls.
It's hard to sit down and write about my thoughts. My mind is as chaotic as the New York streets, thoughts intruding like many voices being drowned out by one another. Some would call me pessimistic, but I fear that this is only the first day in a long part of American history. It isn't just because people keep talking about history being changed. It's because these acts were so obviously deliberate and so cruel--and cruel is a mild descriptor. What will have happened between now and the time when you are old enough to read and appreciate this? When I was a teenager, I often read that my peers feared nuclear war. I remember reading a fictional account of a family's survival after nuclear war, and thinking it was just science fiction. Why fear something so abstract? War was something I read about in my history classes. I couldn't live my life being afraid of it.
But history takes on an entirely new meaning when I begin to live it. Of course, I've always been living it; but now I have become a part of something you will read about in your history books. ... And God's gentle tugging at my heart, "Do not fear," is not so easy to obey. America is a big country. Would war affect only strategic points? Just where are those? Washington, D.C.; New York; Houston; Miami... Where else? Boston? Los Angeles? I suppose it depends on the reasons for the attack. But what are those reasons? I could talk about how fear makes it hard to think rationally; but war is not rational, and whether I like the sound of it or not I know that this is what war is made of. We in America like to take comfort in thinking we will retaliate and punish the offending people--probably the offending nation, including innocents--and life will return to some semblance of normalcy. I cannot believe that it could be so easy. War is a series of cruelties exchanged back and forth. When is a war won? Who knows? We can't put a nation on trial and sentence it to life--or death--in prison. And war eventually ceases to respect strategic targets. Other damage is done along the way. Where will that damage be in America?
Yet life must go on as if all is well. While listening to live broadcasts of the news, I must hold you and rock you as if I am calm. Perhaps we should have turned off the radios. The news would be replayed all day. Why keep it on? Because keeping it on somehow made us feel like we were actively caring about what was happening rather than ignoring it. To turn it off would have been an act of shielding our eyes, turning away from the suffering of our country. Yet at some point I must turn my attention to what I CAN do, what I MUST do here and now, to the baby in my arms who is not afraid but simply craves a feeling of safety and closeness with a caregiver. May God grant me the strength I need to go on with such tasks.
While holding that baby, I thought about the fact that she would not remember any of this when she grew up. For her, reading about this would be like me reading about the Vietnam war. For a little while, I thought about writing about it with the baby as the background--or perhaps doing a series of letters to the baby about current events. I tried for a while; but I could not make enough sense of it to keep the momentum going. I have never quite been able to let go of the idea, though. Of course, Ciara becomes symbolic in a project like this. I have long since lost touch with that little girl. She is six years old now. I don't know where she lives or what she understands about any of this. I have no idea what her personality is like. But in a sense, Ciara is every child I have held during that time period. They are all growing up in a world that is vastly different from the one I grew up in. What would I want to say to them? It is more than something about history, and it is more than about September 11. In a way, everything that I have experienced beginning with my child care years has all been about one thing. How did "that Sarah" become "this one?" What do I do when everything is changing, when I am afraid and life is falling apart? If I'm not saying that, then I'm really saying nothing except more disconnected history.