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9-11, the Uninvited Darkness

My oldest gets married in a couple months, to her high school sweetheart and a former Marine. Her mama, my high school sweetheart, is dying cheesecloth to decorate tables at the reception in the back yard. I can see a ‘Happy Birthday’ sign in our dining room, some confetti on the floor, the quiet remains of my youngest daughter’s birthday that occurs on September 10. This year she turned 20, born on the eve of 9-11. There are pictures of her and I that day, her two year old sister wide-eyed and rambunctious, their mother tired and glowing and holding our children in her gaze and her arms. That I had anything to do with such simple and enduring beauty is still a mystery and my greatest joy.

Twenty years ago I was holding my newborn girl when a nurse came in and said we may want to watch the TV. Katie Couric was talking about a plane that had hit the World Trade Center, the story unfolding over her shoulder in New York. The second plane struck just before my folks came in- our room a scene of family, endearments, nurses- while the news and images crept in and took a seat, a large uninvited guest. With Helen in my arms I knew her world had changed forever, and she had only just arrived.

Our girls are now grown. We have had joys and sorrows with our loved ones, celebrating life and mourning the very hard loss of ones we adore. The kindness of my kids is inspiring and reassuring. It is hopeful. I have seen it in their friends and felt it permeate through the broad swath of these newly arriving adults. They are far from perfect, and honestly these shortcomings make me feel like we have something in common. On this 20th anniversary of a horrific collective tragedy played out on cable television, I can still feel the presence of that large, uninvited guest. He’s been here the whole time.

War. Twenty years of war. Economic collapse. Plague. Insurrection.

This stranger has tried to make himself at home. He is the second part of an epoxy stirred into our culture, hardening our positions, our views, our hearts. Vigilance is necessary, but paranoia has been distilled into a potent opiate where folks take hits off their digital devices, taking deep breaths of shallow conspiracy, exhaling second hand smoke into the masses. Something about irrational resentment must be awfully attractive, it sure gets a lot of air time. Twenty years ago, Flight 93, citizen passengers kept a plane from hitting the Capitol, our house, built on Article 1. Earlier this year folks bashed down the doors of our house, assaulted the same force that shouted to the members of congress to run on 9-11, and they smeared feces in the Capitol. In our house. And there he sits.

As my loved ones, these amazing ladies, dye cloth and curate life’s celebrations, I watch memorials to that dark day. We have hosted this darkness a long time. I wonder if it has metastasized, infecting the cells of our collective bloodstream and spread around the body politic, hardening hearts. Sure seems that way. For me the hope lies with these young folks. These newly arriving adults walking the streets of my hometown, those emerging from the homes of loved ones near and far, and those I meet for the first time as a teacher. My lovely girls, your kindness lets in the light, it softens the inevitable shadows, it warms my heart.

It softens my heart.

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