Any Other Day?

Ground Zero - Nat GeoEvery year I wonder if this is the year I will forget. Every year I wonder if this is the year it stops feeling so fresh. Every year—as September 11th, 2001 slips further into history—I wonder if it’s strange it still haunts me like it does. And every year, as the anniversary of that fateful day approaches, I wonder… Is this the year it starts to feel like any other day?

Yesterday I tried to remember what September 10, 2001 had felt like. What was it like to wake up in a world where September 11th was just another non-descript day on the calendar? What did it feel like before the words nine-eleven lingered bitterly on our lips or hung heavily in the air like an acrid cloud of black smoke?

Try as I might, I can’t recall. I remember the weather was beautiful. People always talk about the weather that day. Have you noticed that? Sunny, warm, and cloudless… Everyone says it was the sort of late-summer day that makes you happy to be alive. In fact, everyone seems to marvel at just how extraordinarily perfect and “normal” that Tuesday was when it began.

As most people do, I still remember the day so clearly. I remember what I wore, what I ate, where I was when it happened, what I said, how I felt and how I didn’t sleep at all later that night. I remember experiencing a sensation that the sky was falling because a nameless, faceless enemy had brought the horror of war to our doorstep. And I remember wondering if anything would ever be the same again.

I don’t know when it will feel like just another day on the calendar, or if it ever will. I hope it never does. I do know that so far every year—like picking a scab off of an old wound—I still remember. I know that so far every year it feels as though it only happened yesterday.

So I guess I have my answer.

Tonight when I turn out the lights to go to sleep… I will close my eyes knowing that this was not the year that I forgot.

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One Nation, Deeply Divided

Do you ever feel like running away from it all? I know I do at times. These days all I have to do is turn on the news and a sudden, uncontrollable urge to pack a bag and just disappear washes over me. I would leave my cell phone, computer and all other forms of communication and technology behind.

I would go somewhere where I would not be exposed to the hatred-filled arguments between just about EVERYONE in this country about our current president and whether or not he is a Socialist… or a Communist… or the Anti-Christ.

I wouldn’t have to listen to a polarized nation debate the efficacy of the jobs plan, the necessity and scope of health care reform, education reform, the dwindling budget and rapidly-emptying coffers, anticipated green laws, foreign policy, the continued instability and unrest in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan.

I would quietly slip away to a place where there were no such things as Republicans, Democrats, Conservatives, Ultra-Conservatives, Liberals and Ultra-Liberals, Independents, political pundits, corrupt politicians and loud-mouthed, single-minded individuals pushing their own agendas all under the guise of “productive discussion.” Since when were hatred and fear the key elements in productive discussion anyway?

You see … I am so deeply disappointed in our behavior as citizens of this country. If you are still reading this, do not think me unpatriotic. I am PROUD to be an American. I still get goosebumps every single time I stand and tilt my chin toward the stars and stripes being lifted by the wind while our National Anthem is sung or played. I try to say a sincere “thank-you” to our men and women in uniform whenever I get the chance.

But I can’t help thinking about where we were, who we were and how we treated one another just 10 years ago this week. September 11 is drawing near… again. For the tenth time our nation will stop and gather to remember the tragedy that occurred on that fateful day. Most of us will probably pause to remember where we were, what we were doing, how we heard, what we witnessed and hopefully—more importantly—how we felt.

A horrific thing happened on that Tuesday morning… an unspeakable act that has forever charred the fabric of the American tapestry. But on that day, and in the months and probably even the year that followed, we were united as a country. We had a common enemy: Terrorism and those who perpetuated it. We had a common goal: To restore peace and a sense of safety in our homes and in our communities.

What happened? Have we so quickly forgotten what we were so brutally reminded of on that day? That we are ALL equal? That we are ALL human? That we ALL love… and hurt… and bleed? That we will not live on this earth forever? That we are all in this together whether we like it or not?

Please, PLEASE I ask you to consider these things this week and if only for a little while… I encourage you to look at your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers, fellow classmates and strangers you pass on the street… and remember that we are far more alike than we are different.

The Survivor Tree

In the middle of a busy city, surrounded by traffic, concrete and glass, stands a very special tree. To simply look at it, you would assume it’s just an ordinary tree. And if you did not know the history of it or the reason why it is so special, perhaps you might walk right by without giving it a second glance.

It isn’t a very big tree, it isn’t a rare type of tree… yet it stands humbly and proudly in the center of America’s Heartland serving as an icon of survival. People travel from miles away to stand beneath the shade of its branches and reflect on its sheer existence and resilience. Perhaps they gain strength, perhaps they feel the freedom to surrender to their emotion and weep, perhaps they receive healing, or perhaps their chests swell with pride to be in the presence of such a cherished natural landmark.

I have had the unique fortune of visiting the tree 3 times in as many years. And on each occasion when I stood at its base, examined the bark and gazed up at the sunlight streaming though its canopy, I have been inspired. Several times I have driven across this country, and while passing through I have never failed to stop in Oklahoma City and pay a visit to my favorite tree… The Survivor Tree.

The tree got its name by surviving the bombing that occurred at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995, killing 168 people, including 19 children under the age of 6 and 3 unborn babies in addition. The survival of the tree was quite amazing considering that the sheer force of the blast ripped most of the branches from it. Glass and debris were embedded in its trunk and fire from the cars parked beneath it blackened what was left. Most thought the 104-year-old tree would not survive. However—almost a year after the bombing—family members, survivors and rescue workers gathered for a memorial ceremony under the tree, and they noticed something quite extraordinary. In the midst of this field of desolation and despair… this tattered tree was beginning to bloom.

Drastic measures have since been taken to see that the tree is cared for and preserved in honor of those who survived that tragic day. A beautiful memorial surrounds it so that anyone who cares to may come and marvel at the wonder of the tree’s endurance. The inscription on the wall around the Survivor Tree reads: The spirit of this city and this nation will not be defeated; our deeply rooted faith sustains us.

As I look back, I am reminded that my deeply rooted faith has sustained me thus far. You see, each time I traveled across the country and took the opportunity to stop at the memorial, I was never really “just passing through.” In my case, all three times found me in the midst of a personal life transition and when I approached the tree, it was always with a burdened heart. Standing on the hallowed ground of such a place, one’s mind cannot help but reflect as it reels with doubts, fears and endless questions about this thing we call humanity. But each time… the Survivor Tree stood there for me as if to say: You WILL survive this circumstance, after all… more fragile things than you have survived much deeper devastation.