…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.

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.

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.