Lately I’ve noticed that I’ve been filtering much of what’s going on in and around me through the lens of the events of 9/11. I imagine many of you have been, too.
Back in those days, I served as editor of a magazine called Monday Morning. It was a publication of the Presbyterian Church (USA). During that time, I lived in a very special time zone known as “magazine time.” Sitting down to write involved quite a bit of trying to figure out what would be going on in the world about a month later when a particular issue actually made it to the readers. Christmas and Easter were easy. General Assembly. Back-to-School. You get the idea. The hard part was dealing with the things we couldn’t anticipate.
Thus, over Labor Day weekend in 2001, propped up in bed and half-high on muscle relaxants, I had naively written:
…where we went was to the hospital. Once for Bill, who was having chest pains, and once for me, with a very bad back episode. Frankly, two ambulance rides in as many weeks is just a bit much. And there hasn’t been much time for processing, profound or otherwise, since. Next week’s just about got to be better.
Which, of course, it wasn’t. I was actually working on a new issue, still propped up in bed and trying to get some work done before reaching for the muscle relaxants, when Bill called and told me to turn on the news. There’d been a plane crash. Grumbling, I flipped the news on, just as the plane hit the second tower.
The world changed.
But there’s another story you need to know:
When I was a kid, my family had an English springer spaniel named Maude. We’d go on family car trips to Indiana for Easter or Minnesota for Thanksgiving or wherever. Maude would sleep quiety in the backseat, usually between my sister and me, a kind of canine neutral zone, until we stopped. Now, my dad would only stop when the car needed gas, so it was really important for everybody to leap out of the car and attend to any personal needs quickly.
Maude would go nuts. You could literally see her counting noses until all of her people were back where they belonged.
That’s the first thing I felt as I watched the horrifying scenes of terror unfolding before my eyes that Tuesday morning. I was counting noses. Having lived for five years just outside the D.C. beltway, I had a lot of them to count. And then, suddenly, I realized that all those people running from falling debris and working to rescue others and perishing in the tragedy were my people and there were far more noses than I could ever count.
I remember being pretty numb for the week and half that followed. I wondered over and over what I would say when the inevitable deadline for the next issue of Monday Morning rolled around. And the story went on:
…I watched the astounding telethon for the victims and survivors. At first I was amazed that all the networks and most of the cable stations ran it. Then I noticed that there were no commercials. Not even one! And then I realized that there were no names except those of the victims and survivors and rescue-working heroes. None of the stars was introduced. None of their achievements was listed. There were the glittering folk of our culture, anonymous for those few hours, brothers and sisters in pain and hope.
And then, toward the end, a young Asian-American woman who plays a really nasty lawyer on TV spoke. I don’t remember all of what she said, but her last words were these: “Hatred is America’s greatest enemy.”
Of course, she was right. You already knew that. In a sense, I did, too, but I wasn’t a grandmother in those days and I’ve learned many new things since then.
My girls weren’t born yet on that fateful day when the whole nation wound up with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. I didn’t know then that my job, and I dare say the job we all share, would be figuring out how to hold hope in the face of such violence and destruction. For me, it all boils down to this one thing: I don’t want my girls to grow up without hope. I don’t want any of our kids to grow up without hope.
So, especially given the strong probability that nobody is going to invite me to sing on TV to help anyone, what do I do with that?
Well, I wave at babies in the Farmers’ Market. Really!
And I remind myself that we all have, to take a rather Jungian view, the need to be safely held and soothed. At least enough. That’s something a mere tone deaf, non-celebrity grandmother can do! So can you!
Cuddle the little people in your life close. Rock. Or sing and dance with them snug in your arms. Pick them up when they cry. Rub their backs and sing some more. They need to make deep muscle memories of being safely held and soothed.
I’ve come to realize that those memories are the beginning of hope.
There will be time enough for them to learn to soothe themselves. And days when we’re all trying desperately to remember how, or perhaps to learn for the first time.
Teach them the stories of your faith, be it in a God who makes order out of chaos, or in a new, more feminine world energy which is said to have begun on December 12, 2012, or in Mother Nature, or simply in the power we all hold to work for good.
Keep age appropriate art supplies. Kids can make pictures long before they can process things verbally. Honor their questions. Fix tea. Plant seeds. Wrap them in quilts made with love, if you’re so inclined. Teach them to bake bread. It’s a very hopeful kind of activity! Make chicken broth.
There’s a secret hidden in those suggestions. Did you catch it?
In order to feel hopeful, we first have to do hopeful things! I’m not sure I would have planned it that way if I’d been asked, but that’s the way it is. This seems like a good time for doing hopeful things.
Maybe the best time any of us have known.
Quotes from Monday Morning are reprinted with permission. Many thanks to Walter Brueggemann for giving me language for the “God who makes order out of chaos”.