Thursday, September 11, 2008
Seven years ago today...
Seven years ago today I was walking the streets of our gracious Pasadena neighborhood in the pre-dawn darkness. I was with a trusted friend and I felt safe, listened to, loved. There was a comfortable chill in the air, just the right temperature for our ritual three-mile stroll.
We walked the same route nearly every morning. All the houses were familiar, as were most of their gardens and pets. One morning on this same route we witnessed something completely outside the norm -- we saw a hawk swoop down, catching a white dove in mid-air, and devour it on someone's front lawn. We were horrified, and yet we couldn't tear ourselves away from the scene. We watched the dove flutter and flap, nearly escape, and then succumb. It was like feeling compelled to look at a car accident when you pass by on the freeway. Something in our psyche needed to take it all in. We'd seen creatures in the wild many times on the trails -- a huge rattlesnake ready to strike, a great blue heron perched on a rock, a black bear on the run -- but nothing felt like such an injustice, an invasion, as seeing this dove suffer under the powerful talons of the hawk. Finally we couldn't watch it any more. We tore ourselves away and moved on.
My lungs breathed in and out, a little harder as we crested the hill, then slowing again as we covered the downhill stretch toward home. Home, where my husband would be waking. Home, where the children were still sleeping. Home, our bastion of safekeeping. I crossed the front lawn, stopping to marvel at the hydrangeas -- still blooming, changing color -- and noticed that the plants on the big wraparound porch were looking parched.
I walked upstairs and heard the radio abuzz with tension and static. When I got close enough to make out the actual words, I heard something almost as bizarre and unthinkable as H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds". A plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, causing a gaping hole, flames, and then the collapse of the entire tower. I couldn't take in the gravity of it all at once. A freak accident. But then there was another, and another. This had to be intentional. An attack in mid-air. Master-minded by terrorists.
Over and over again we watched it on the news: The crash, the wreckage, the slow-motion collapse. We watched until we. Could. Not. Watch. Any. More.
My in-laws called from Newport where they were vacationing. They couldn't get a flight out. So they wanted to camp at our house. I was grateful and relieved. There was something so reassuring about their wisdom, their stability, their companionship. Family. I secretly hoped they'd never leave.
The hardest thing I had to do was send our children off to school. The sky was falling. The world was collapsing around us. Our sense of safety had vanished forever.
I didn't want my little hatchlings to leave our nest that day. But it was expected, required. As I pondered my total inability to protect them once they left my grasp, it occurred to me that the only thing I did have a direct influence on their spiritual safety. So that morning, as if their very lives depended on it, we dressed them in a full suit of armor, a piece at a time: The shield of faith. The helmet of salvation. The sword of the spirit. Right down to the feet shod in the gospel of peace, placed there by the angels themselves. Then, and only then, did we let them venture out into the world.
We followed the same pattern for weeks and months afterward, carefully reading each verse with the children as we symbolically draped them in the armor of God.
And then we started getting comfortable again. Terrorism didn't seem like such an immediate threat any more. The crisis was averted. Traveling was inconvenient. But our homes were safe.
--Or were they?
I love the lessons I learned on September 11, 2001. That no one is really ever safe. That family matters more than anything else on earth. And that there is incredible peace in knowing that our children have been taught of the Lord. That our only real safety is in the hands of the Savior. That His is the only real peace.
I am ashamed that I don't send the children out into the world EVERY day as prepared as I did that morning. But when I'm reminded of 9/11 I feel a renewed sense of urgency. I remember how that day, when I felt powerless and weak, suddenly I became strong. And I recommit myself to arming our children, and safe-guarding our home from dangerous influences. Because I want that kind of strength every day, for them and for me.