…and to the Republic for which it stands…

TitleI was driving to work yesterday saying hateful things to my uncooperative hair, getting stopped at every, single red light and growing increasingly impatient as I secretly cursed the slow-moving guy in front of me for consulting his dashboard GPS on his EVERY move because he was clearly LOST… when I looked out my driver’s side window toward the shopping plaza across the street. On the corner I noticed the flag flying at half-staff and thought to myself with a lump suddenly lodged in my throat: “Oh. Yeah. That’s right.” And just like that, I remembered Sandy Hook. Suddenly none of my petty “issues” mattered AT ALL.

I remembered that somewhere, not too far from here… people are deeply hurting. They are grieving instead of baking cookies and shopping and considering what to stuff inside the stockings. On the week before Christmas—a child’s most cherished holiday—parents are burying their babies instead of reading them stories and tucking them in for a brief winter’s nap. I remembered that somewhere, not too far from here… a community is drowning in devastation as they grapple with the largest, most difficult questions anyone will ever ask.

The flag, flapping silently from it’s revised position only half-way up the pole, was a solid slap in the face forcing me to gain the proper perspective about something as minor as slow-moving traffic. Yet it was an even harsher reminder that so much of what I worry about on a regular basis is utterly futile. But there won’t always be a flag flying at half-staff to serve as such a wake-up call. Eventually the flag will be raised again as we attempt to move forward and the evening news will begin to cover something else.

And while we ought not remain mired in the darkness that so often spreads from unspeakable tragedy, it IS worth pausing to remember that whether we see the flag raised high with pride or lowered with respect in mourning… it’s fabric wraps all the way around us… All of usEvery day. And well, if we can remember that we’re collectively covered by the same cloth… maybe we can remember that this life is about so much more than ourselves. And maybe that’s a start.

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Interrupted

Of all things, it was a simple basket of laundry and the unopened April issue of Martha Stewart Living that got to me the most. Yes I knew that she was gone. Or I was—at the very least—attempting to wrap my mind around her sudden, unexpected and premature departure. But these small, mundane pieces of normal, daily life suddenly served as monumental reminders of a life interrupted.

When my mother-in-law-to-be passed away a little over a week ago, plans were being made while food and condolances began arriving. All sorts of larger details pointed to the devastating reality that a wonderful, caring wife and mother was taken from us way too soon. And yet I wandered around her home… finding myself entranced by the littlest things.

Bread crumbs of regular life have a way of lining a path through grief — making it utterly impossible to forget that time is capable of standing still. We are shaken. Taken firmly by the shoulders and put in our place by a power that is far, far greater than anything we can comprehend or imagine. We are reminded that we are not immortal. We are reminded just how fragile life truly is. We are reminded that time is a finite thing.

And then an intriguing thing happens.

Our perspective changes. Dramatically.

The regular worries of this life don’t weigh quite as much. Former frets and concerns suddenly seem petty and paper-thin. The slight we experienced by someone we thought was a friend loses it’s sting. The opinions of others don’t matter anymore.

You see, as I found out a week ago… death has an uncanny way of clearing away the cobwebs in our minds to make room only for that which matters NOW. Living fully. Living intentionally. Giving our energy and attention to those who deserve it most. Not wasting one, single ounce of it on futile people or endeavors. And finding every bit of joy and beauty there is to be found before our living too, is interrupted.

For One Day

Maybe for one day…

We will forget the little things that are troubling us.

We will forget to be angry or frustrated when we get stuck behind that awful driver.

We will chill out when we inevitably choose the slowest line at the checkout counter.

We will smile anyway when someone hurts us.

We will extend kindness to a stranger who—for all we know—may be in desperate need of some.

We will forgive the petty arguments we are in the middle of.

We will allow bitterness to loosen its grip on us.

We will hold close the ones we love and tell them how much they mean to us.

We will drop our shoulders
our guards
and our anger.

Miraculously, we did that ten years ago this week. We all stopped and for at least ONE day, we remembered the most important things. We remembered that all we really, truly need is right in front of us… be it family, friends or neighbors. We remembered what a gift it was just to be safe and to be alive. We learned that kindness and goodness will always trump jealousy, selfishness and rage.

This is how we should live each day, even though we don’t. Believe me… I include myself in that I-don’t-do-it-even-though-I-know-I-should category. I worry, I fret, I pace and I wring my hands while obsessing over what I think I need to accomplish that day, over a lack of money, or a lack of time, or a lack of respect I think I deserve, or an awful thing that someone said or did to me.

But perhaps for just ONE day … ten years after we witnessed first hand—through billows of black smoke and piles of ash—what hatred and fear and ignorance are capable of …

We will take a breath and remember.

And rather than dwell on everything that has gone wrong … we will pause and give thanks for everything that is still right.

This waterfall at the site of the 9/11 memorial at ground zero now fills the "void" left behind by one of the fallen towers.

A serviceman kneels at the 9/11 memorial at the Pentagon.

Families walk amidst endless flags in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

If I Could Tell Her

It is without a doubt, my favorite time of day. The house is dark save for the soft light pouring from the lamp on my nightstand. I’ve put to bed all of the concerns of the hours leading up to this one and I’ve curled up with just a pen and a clean, white page in my leather-bound journal. I scribble the date at the top of the page and begin to write. All is silent and still. These minutes belong only to me.

I write about anything and everything from the mundane events of ordinary life and noteworthy events to frustrations, disappointments, successes and failures. And naturally, there is the occasional, profanity-laced rant. The writing is cathartic. But sometimes just the feel of the soft leather book in my hands and the sound of the spine crackling as I pry it open, is a reward in and of itself.

On one particular evening while venting about a personal frustration, I looked up from my journal and out into the hallway. My gaze fell upon a single photograph hanging among many. It is a picture of a young girl, about 4 or 5 years old, wearing a little red sweatshirt with the hood up, tied tight. She is perched on a large stone step with her chin buried in the crook of her tiny arm, looking as though she’s carrying the weight of the world on her small shoulders. She is clearly contemplating something, though I know not what.

I’ve walked by this photo a thousand times, but on this particular night, I was struck by an overwhelming compulsion. I wanted desperately in that moment to run to her, scoop her baby face into my 36-year-old hands and tell her so many things! No, I have not lost my mind. I know that this was never a viable option. But so powerful was my urge to do this impossible thing that I imagined what the encounter might look like…

I would tell her not to be in such a hurry to grow up and to think before she speaks. I would caution her not to be so hard on herself as she grows older and to never waste precious tears on stupid boys who’ll break her heart and awful girls who’ll act like her friends when they are anything but. I would tell her that there are amazing things out there! So many places to see, experiences to enjoy, moments to relish and victories she’ll never dream possible.

There will be times of tremendous joy, celebration and heart-stopping laughter. And times when the pain will be SO sharp, she’ll truly believe that she cannot go on. She’ll love with her whole heart and grieve when the same love disappoints. That oftentimes with incredible discovery can come unimaginable loss. Yet I would also impart to her that strength can be found in the smiles of strangers and on the big, broad shoulders of true friends… and that sometimes salvation will be found when and where she least expects it. I’d share with her the valuable secrets that she will one day stand on top of mountains and delve into the depths of the ocean. I would tell her that Life is really just one giant, scary, lovely, messy adventure and that she shouldn’t waste one single breath of it thinking she’s not enough.

But then again, perhaps I wouldn’t say anything to her at all. She will find out entirely on her own… everything in its time… and it will make her the person that I see in the mirror every day.