Life in the Desert

September 11, 2013 at 12:35 pm (Community, Faith, Kids, Politics) (, , , )

We celebrated our twelfth wedding anniversary on Sunday, so that means it’s been 12 years since 9/11/01. There are lots of posts about 9/11 on my Facebook feed this morning, prayers for peace, and “I will never forget” badges and the like. Me, I’m going to be spending the day trying to get organized for the kindergarten party on Saturday, getting the Battle of the Books stuff done, and paying bills. I think that’s ok. Life goes on.

I was in Arizona over the weekend. It was 80 bazillion degrees the day we got there – the heat was so intense as soon as we got off the plane, it felt like being punched in the gut. The desert is beautiful, albeit not beautiful in the way my Wisconsin soul typically imagines beautiful. We climbed a mountain, a little one anyway, on Saturday morning. I took pictures of every cactus I saw, fascinated by their foreignness. On Saturday night it rained, just a little, and by Sunday morning, the brown and seemingly barren mountain was green. It had exploded with life in the space of 24 hours.


I think we humans are the same way. Give us half a chance, and like the desert with that tiny bit of rain, we won’t just choose life, we’ll seize it. There are moments when life seems fragile, but paradoxically, it’s tenacious at the same time. We’re tenacious. We have to be.

So here we are, 12 years on, and our country is considering military action in Syria. I don’t have the answer. (Wouldn’t that be awesome if I did? Middle-aged suburban housewife solves Syria question. Sigh.) All I can tell you is what I’m trying to do, what I’m trying to teach my children to do: Choose life. Choose peace. Grow.


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September 11, 2011 at 2:18 pm (Community, Faith, Kids, Politics) (, , , )

Ten years ago, I was in Vancouver, on the third day of my honeymoon.  My husband and I (and it was still very strange to say those words) had woken up early, slightly before 6 am Pacific time and gone down to the hotel’s outdoor pool.  I swam a couple of laps in the freezing cold water before joining Sam in the hot tub.  A middle-aged man was there already.  He was a veterinarian from Michigan, in Canada for a conference.  We talked about bovine spongeform encephalitis, and my uncle Riley who was a sheep farmer.  The world was quiet and dark, sleepy and peaceful.  Only later did we learn that at those exact moments Sam’s hometown of New York was under attack, that when we returned to our house in Washington, DC, our world would have changed irrevocably.

Now a decade has passed.  My oldest daughter, who is named for my late uncle, is in the third grade and has two younger siblings.  Sam and I celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary three days ago with beer and a Packers win.  Every year on this day I remember that vet, I remember our fear and our deep sadness as we watched the towers come down and I shed a few tears.  It’s good to pause and reflect, but this year, because it’s the tenth anniversary, the memorials have been overwhelming.  They’ve come so fast and furious, I haven’t been able to find a still corner of my mind to think…which is why it was such a gift to see the readings for mass this morning.

Here’s a bit of the first one, from the book of Sirach:

“Wrath and anger are hateful things,

yet the sinner hugs them tight.

Forgive your neighbor’s injustice;

then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.

Could anyone nourish anger against another

and expect healing from the LORD?

Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself,

can he seek pardon for his own sins?”

And here’s today’s Psalm:

“The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion.

He pardons all your iniquities,

heals all your ills.

redeems your life from destruction,

he crowns you with kindness and compassion.

He will not always chide,

nor does he keep his wrath forever.

Not according to our sins does he deal with us,

nor does he requite us according to our crimes.

For as the heavens are high above the earth,

so surpassing is his kindness toward those who fear him.

As far as the east is from the west,

so far has he put our transgressions from us.”

And the Gospel, from Matthew:

Peter approached Jesus and asked him,

“Lord, if my brother sins against me,

how often must I forgive?

As many as seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. ”

For Catholics, the readings are arranged in a three year cycle.  No one looked at the calendar and said, “Oh, forgiveness! that will be great for 9/11.”  It’s a happy accident, or serendipity or divine intervention.  Choose your pleasure or pick your poison.  When I first saw these yesterday as I was preparing for today’s Children’s Liturgy, I hadn’t associated them with 9/11.  I was thinking about talking to the kids about how hard it is to say, “I’m sorry” and how much easier it is to be the forgiver.  But this morning, these readings slapped me upside the head.  It is really expletive hard to forgive.  (I’ll try to clean up my language in the hour before church.)  That’s the job though.  That’s what we’re supposed to do.  If we’re using the anniversary of 9/11 to fan the flames of hatred we are missing the expletive point.  Mercy, compassion, kindness, and healing.  That is my 9/11 prayer for all of us.  All of us.

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Freedom of Religion

September 11, 2010 at 4:11 pm (Faith, Interfaith, Politics) (, , )

I’d been holding off commenting about the controversy surrounding siting the proposed Islamic Center near the World Trade Center because frankly it’s been a busy summer and I haven’t felt educated enough to talk about it. And then there was the yahoo, I mean reverend pastor, in Florida who wants to make a name for himself by burning Korans, but I didn’t want to write about that until I’d read more than the headlines and heard more than the soundbytes.

But you know what, it’s shaping up to be a busy fall, and not having all the facts doesn’t seem to stop anyone else so I’m jumping in with my two cents.

Today is September 11. Nine years and three days ago I got married. Then nine years ago terrorists hijacked four planes crashing them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field. More than three thousand people lost their lives. Sam asked me this morning if we should take a moment of silence to honor those people and commemorate the event.

I said no.

And then I burst into tears. Here’s why: I don’t really want to build monuments or hold services or take a minute of silence. I want us to honor those people by being the best Americans we can possibly be. I want us to honor them by paying more than lip service to the idea of freedom of religion. I want us to make clear to the rest of the world, yes, but also to the millions of Muslims living in the United States that we don’t equate their religion with terrorism, that we don’t hold them responsible for what happened on 9/11 any more than I’m responsible for the Crusades or the Inquisition. Saying there can’t be an Islamic Center within a certain radius of the Twin Towers, burning Korans? That’s saying we hold Muslims, all Muslims, responsible for the actions of a small group of bad people. Listen, I’m sorry to tell you this, but bad people do bad things, there are bad people of every religion, and it shouldn’t reflect on the rest of us who are trying to raise our families, do our jobs and lead decent lives, whatever our religious beliefs.

So here’s how I’m commemorating September 11th: two birthday parties, two soccer games, homemade bread and corn chowder. And a prayer or of comfort for those who lost loved ones…and a fervent petition that we as Americans will make that ideal of religious freedom a reality.

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September 11, 2009 at 5:11 pm (Uncategorized) (, )

I’m having a rotten morning. Nothing major, just run-of-the-mill stuff: forgotten lunch, puking kid, the 80th spilt milk of the week. And yet, I have felt on the edge all morning, with a lump in my throat and tears setting an ambush behind my eyelids. I sort of wonder if it’s because eight years ago was such a spectacularly bad day.

It started out okay – we woke up in our hotel room in Vancouver on the third day of our honeymoon at about 5:45 am. Unable to go back to sleep, we made our way down to the pool. I think I swam a few laps before joining Sam and a veterinarian from Michigan in the hot tub. He was there for a conference, and we talked about bovine spongeform encephalitis. When we found out what had happened after breakfast, we wept and watched TV and tried to reach Sam’s family in New York on the telephone. We thought it was the end of the world.

But it wasn’t. And here I am eight years later, a wife and a mother, with the milk and the lunch and the vomit and the tears.

In Judaism, there is a custom of yahrzeit, where you mark the anniversary of a death by saying Kaddish and lighting a candle. Catholics have masses said in honor of their deceased loved ones. I guess our secular observances are monuments and museums and speeches. None of that is giving me any comfort today, so I guess I’ll just say in memory of that day, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so very, very sorry.

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