Friday, September 11, 2015

Alan Jackson, Big Bird, and C.S. Lewis -- A 9-11 Recollection

I wrote this four years ago to share with my writers' group in response to an assignment to share a 9-11 recollection. I decided to share it publicly (well, semi-publically) this year. This was written ten years after 9-11 occurred. Four years later, I am still amazed at the healing, grace and redemption of our story that we have found in Jesus. He redeems everything.

"Where were you when the world stopped turning?" Alan Jackson’s voice mourns as devastating images of the crumpling World Trade Center flash across the screen. I am sorting laundry that has reached epic levels. It is September 11, 2011. Ten years ago today the world changed. This date has become for my generation the "Where were you when . . .  " question. I am mesmerized by the programs of remembrance airing on this somber anniversary. 

My 13 year old enters the room, stops, and stares at the screen. For a split second, I think I should lunge for the remote control and quickly change the channel to something happier, more pleasant. But she is mesmerized now too . . . .

Suddenly, in my mind it is ten years ago. I can’t remember exactly what I was doing when I first heard the news. Perhaps I was sorting laundry then, too. It does seem to be the task that never ends. I do remember deciding not to go to work that day. Things felt too unstable, unpredictable. Allison, then three years old, seemed perfectly content with the idea of playing hooky from preschool and promptly planted herself in front of the television to watch Sesame Street. I slipped into the bedroom to watch more news.

I was glued to the screen as the world learned that the Pentagon had been hit. "What in the world is going on?" I mutter . 

I wander down the hall to check on Allison, who is now giggling because Elmo is talking to his goldfish, Dorothy. She's fine, oblivious. I return to the utter horrors being revealed on the other television set. Now a fourth
plane has crashed. I have never experienced a national crisis of this level. I am afraid.

But I have a preschooler who needs to be checked on so I shove fear aside and traipse back down the hallway. Big Bird is working on his counting skills. 12 cookies, 12 doggies, 12 flowers. 

She senses my presence. "Hi, Mommy".
   "Hi, pumpkin."
   "The number of the day is 12! I can count to 12!", she says exuberantly.

"That’s wonderful, honey",  I stumble back to the bedroom. Nothing has changed on CNN except perhaps things seem even more horrific.

"Oh God. My little girl is so innocent, so carefree, so happy. She has no idea what is going on. She doesn’t know that evil exists and that some people hate. How will I ever tell her this? How can I ever
help her understand this when I can’t understand it myself?" 

The rest of the day is a blur.

Somehow, life, as it has a tendency to do, goes on. The images of horror fade, and the rhythm of everyday life resumes. My joyful preschooler becomes a tween in the blink of an eye. I watch her grow with delight.

But then things begin to change.

It didn’t happen overnight. It was gradual, slow. But my normally joy-filled, optimistic child seemed to be losing her happy approach to life. She seemed a little more withdrawn each day. My heart so desperately wanted to believe that it was just normal adolescence, but there was a nagging concern that maybe it was something more. 

Unfortunately, this time period coincided with the one where Moms can do and say nothing right. In fact, I was convinced that in my daughter’s eyes, sometimes I didn’t even breathe right. I was walking on eggshells, afraid that if I tried to approach her, I would cause things to escalate and create a distance between us.

"God, I know I need to talk to her. I need her heart to open back up to me. But I’m so afraid. I don’t want to say the wrong thing or make it worse. I don’t have the courage to do this. Please help me."

Wednesday night rolled around. "Mom, I want to go to youth group tonight." She hadn’t wanted to go for weeks, but, rather than ask questions, I grabbed the keys and we hopped in the car. In what I now see as divinely orchestrated circumstances, they watched a video about a suicidal teen. As
she told me about the video on the way home, I realized God had given me the open door I had prayed for. (He's so faithful. Sigh.)  

"Have you ever felt that badly about yourself?" I gingerly ask.

The floodgates opened. It turned out that bullying she had experienced two years prior had a much deeper and more profound effect on her than I knew.

 "Mom, I can’t forget what they said about me and did to me. They made me feel so badly about myself and no matter how hard I try, I can’t get past it."

Healing began in that moment. We cried and prayed together and agreed that she should talk to someone on an ongoing basis about the bullying and its effects on her self image. 

We found an awesome Christian counselor who became a partner with us in helping Allison to reach her full potential. Allison forgave the people who hurt her with a grace that I can only aspire to.

I began to see her joy and optimism resurface. She had an open heart again.

So, as we watch the commemoration of 9/11, I have a grateful heart. We see a clip of rescuers finding a portion of the steel that remained erect and formed a rugged cross. There is beauty in the ashes. God can redeem anything. He has for us.

I am reminded of the scene in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, when Lucy asks about the character of the Lion, who represents Christ. "Is He safe?", she asks. 

The reply: "Who said anything about safe? Course He isn’t safe. But He’s good."

My daughter now knows there is evil and hate in the world. She has experienced, on a small scale, her own version of terror. But God is redeeming it.   

We are on the brink of 5 more years of adolescence.  Does our life feel safe right now? Not by a long shot.

 But is it good? Absolutely.