Monday, September 12, 2005

Day of Remembrance

Yesterday morning at church, the pastor recalled that many people's response to the September 11, 2001 hijacking massacre was "Nuke the (expletives)!". I felt that way myself. Still do, in fact. But I know now as I did then that nuking was not a viable option because the (expletives) were hard to find. It's part of what makes the war so difficult.

I always leave church with the feeling that I've been handed a self-righteous slap in the face, but at least I understand that a good preacher slaps himself in the process. It's nice to belong to a church that is ministered to by someone who knows that he is a human being. We all leave church and go back to our personal lives. Some of us are more spiritual than others; a lot of us just wanted to run home right away so as not to miss a minute of the Steelers game. I had my football fix the day before, so Sunday was a day to do...whatever.

I was ordered to get out of the house and take children with me. After a nice lunch at a nearly empty Taco Bell, we went for a walk on the Panhandle Trail just west of Pittsburgh. Watching three jumping beans is not an easy task, but it is my responsibility and I have to do my best to keep them from getting hurt or from causing trouble for others. The trail is a pleasant, quiet place where people go to exercise or to relax away from the noise of the city, so of course I spent a considerable amount of time yelling and screaming at the kids. They taxed my patience to the point that, when I was putting them to bed last night, I told them a cautionary tale about three disobedient children who, one by one, get poison ivy, fall off a bridge into a creek and break legs, and get run over by a bicycle. Somehow I work in the poisonous toad that we saw. I had a lot of material to work with here. The kids understood the point that I was trying to make. They were in tears before I could finish, and protested that it wasn't a good story. I intended the story to teach them a lesson, and pointed out that any of those things could have happened that afternoon. But, just to be nice, I went back and gave the story a happy ending.

In the revised version, the child who was going to get run over by a bicycle is instead rescued by a strolling Captain Fishsticks, while the boy who would have broken his legs by falling on some rocks in the creek is saved when he lands on (and thus renders unconscious) Nick the Pirate, who was attempting to plant some explosives underneath the bridge in expectation of the good Captain's arrival. Captain Fishsticks not only goes down and rescues the stunned but otherwise safe child, but (being a good guy) he also applies a splint to Nick's arm. And he leaves him there, since someone who claims to "know stuff" ought to be able to get himself out of there.

Thus, in the revised version of the story, the good guys win and the lives of the innocent are preserved. Sadly, it is only a fiction, devised on the spur of the moment, intended to bring good feeling to people in sorrow. In real life, on the same date four years earlier, the bad guys won and the innocents suffered and died. No revision is possible. Thousands of people really did die, and nothing can bring them back. Tightened airport security is a constant reminder of how the world changed on that day.

Yet, we still fly. I kept thinking about it while holding my baby's hand yesterday. The trail is not far from Pittsburgh International Airport, and everytime a plane approached, it was loud and flying almost directly overhead. Four years ago, I would have felt frightened, more for my children than for myself. Yesterday, I saw the airplane through my child's eyes. "My grammy's on that airplane", she told me. It has been almost two months since she last saw her widowed grandmother, who packed up and moved to the Pacific coast in order to start a new job and a new life. Every airplane reminds her of her grandmother. She has no conception of what happened one year before she was born. Airplanes are for her grammy, and they always land safely. The world is a fun and happy place.

That is the kind of world I want to live in. Not a world where we need to "Nuke the (expletives)!", but a world where we can look up at an airplane and know that everything is right without thinking about what has happened, and could happen again. I thank God for my baby girl everyday, and I sincerely wish that I could re-create the world in her image.

The United States of America is still the last best hope for that kind of world.

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