The Dog Days of Summer...And Remembering 9-11
Each year around the time of my birthday, I tend to hold my breath and become a bit anxious. Not because it’s my birthday. But because it seems the “dog days of summer” rarely fail to bring disturbing and tragic events during those weeks surrounding my birthday.
And this year did not fail. One of my friends lost her son to tragedy. I cannot imagine the pain of losing a child. The unexpected news pounded home the brevity of life. On top of that, the Maui fires destroyed one of my favorite vacation spots and claimed more than 100 lives, with hundreds of souls still unaccounted for.
Even though I am half expecting bad news, when it happens, it never fails to weigh heavily on me. Those weeks around my birthday have brought some of the worst tragedies, even as far back as my youth. Below are just a few of those events.
· Hurricane Katrina destroyed much of New Orleans
· A Korean airline passenger jet was shot down by the Soviet Union, killing all aboard
· The shocking death of Princess Diana
· Steve Irwin was killed by a venomous bull stingray
· Operation Desert Shield began
· Catastrophic floods in Kentucky
· The Manson family murder spree
· An assassination attempt was made on President Gerald Ford by Lynette (“Squeaky”)
· Palestinian terrorists attacked at the Summer Olympic Games, killing 11 members of the Israeli team
· Tupac Shakur was shot and killed by an unknown assailant
· Richard Nixon resigned as U.S. President
· Baseball went on strike (1994) and the World Series was cancelled
· The .com financial crisis of 2008 hit, with the NASDAQ dropping 45% in one day
· Monsoons in Pakistan killed hundreds
· My husband dies from testicular cancer at age 27
· My mother dies from a bad blood transfusion
I could go on listing, but now you can perhaps see why there is some dread as the time of my birthday rolls around every year. When things like this happen, we desperately want to know why! Why do bad things happen? Does God really care? Is He really in control? When will the storm end? Why is this happening to me? To us? To them?
One of my favorite quotes is from Corrie ten Boom, a holocaust survivor. When asked how she endured when all seemed so lost, she replied, “When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away your ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the Engineer.”
Those words are just as relevant today. Bad things happen because we live in a fallen world with fallen people. And yet, even as we go through these times we see the human capacity for kindness, selflessness, generosity, and compassion. I don’t know why things happen as they do. Sometimes it seems that no good can come from a situation, a loss, or a catastrophe. But I have learned to trust the Engineer.
And I know it’s okay for me to feel grief and sadness. After all, Jesus HAD all the answers, and he still wept. He experienced the whiplash of adoration one minute and betrayal and abandonment in the next. He KNEW what Judas would do, but he still washed the feet of Judas at the last supper. So maybe if we had all the answers to why hurt happens, they wouldn’t really be as comforting as we think they would be. Sometimes it means forgiving what seems to be the unforgivable. Sometimes it means finding the strength and courage just to face another day.
Those of us who were adults at the time of the 9-11 terrorist attacks most likely remember exactly where we were, what we were doing, and the terror that glued us to the radio or television set that day. We remember the fire and ash, planes crashing, the crumbling buildings, and the unspeakable grief.
I vividly recall hearing the recorded conversation of passenger Todd Beams that he had on the phone with an operator while on the doomed Flight 93 before it crashed.
Todd: “Hello? Operator? Listen to me…I can’t speak very loud. This is an emergency. I’m a passenger on a United flight to San Francisco. We have a situation here...our plane has been hijacked. Can you understand me?”
Lisa, the operator: “I understand…can the hijacker see you talking on the phone?”
(The two of them would continue to exchange information about the hijackers as Lisa patches the FBI into the call.)
Todd: “Lisa, will you do something for me?
Lisa: “I’ll try…if I can…Yes.”
Todd (choking up throughout): “You have the same name as my wife, Lisa. We’ve been married for 10 years. She’s pregnant with our 3rd child. Tell her that I love her…I’ll always love her. We have two boys…David, he’s 3 and Andrew, he’s 1. Tell them that their daddy loves them and that he is so proud of them. Our baby is due January 12th. I saw an ultrasound. It was great…we still don’t know if it’s a girl or a boy…Lisa?
Lisa (who is barely able to speak): “I’ll tell them, I promise, Todd.”
Todd: “I’m going back to the group…if I can get back, I will…”
Lisa: “Todd, leave this line open…are you still there?”
Todd (breathing heavier): “I have talked with the others. We have decided we would not be pawns in these hijackers’ suicidal plot.”
Lisa: “Todd, what are you going to do?”
Todd: “We’ve hatched a plan. Four of us are going to rush the hijacker with the bomb. After we take him out, we’ll break into the cockpit. A stewardess is getting some boiling water to throw on the hijackers at the controls. We’ll get them…and we’ll take them out. Lisa, will you do one last thing for me?”
Lisa: “Yes…what is it?”
Todd: “Would you pray with me?”
(Together they prayed the Lord’s Prayer, which includes the words, “Thy will be done…” Afterwards, they recited the words from Psalm 23 together.)
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in the path of righteousness for His name sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.”
Todd (in a soft voice): “God help me…Jesus help me.”
Todd (in a louder voice): “Are you guys ready? Let’s roll!”
Only a few moments later, Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania. Todd, along with his fellow passengers, died protecting those many lives in D.C. where the plane was intended to be part of the 9-11 plot.
I don’t know why such tragedy happened to those people who died on 9-11 any more than I know why some lives were spared that day.
· One woman’s alarm clock didn’t go off and she was late for work at the Twin Towers.
· Another was late due to an accident that had stopped traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike.
· One person missed his bus.
· Another was late because she spilled food on her clothes and had to change her clothes.
· One went back to answer the phone in the house that was ringing. One couldn’t flag down a taxi.
· One man was late because it was his turn to bring donuts to the office that day.
· The head of a company was late because he took his kindergartner to his first day of school.
· Another man stopped at a drug store on his way to work at the towers because he was getting a blister from wearing new shoes.
Many perished that day. Many were spared. Maybe NOT understanding and NOT knowing the answers is what grows our faith…or totally destroys it. Ultimately, the choice is one we all have to make.
Even though I may weep and feel distraught when life’s tragedies occur, I try to find some comfort in knowing who is driving the train. That’s what trust is all about. It’s not always about forgetting the pain. Time doesn’t really make the pain go away for a mother who lost her son, or for a man who lost his family in a fire, or for the family who lost loved ones in 9-11. Grief and pain are healed in stages. For some it takes longer. For others, they never recover.
Trauma is timeless. The effects are permanent, and all it takes sometimes is one little event to trigger that pain all over again. Time can help us cope with the pain. But only God can truly heal the pain and make it bearable, perhaps even making something good from it.
An often-heard platitude that people recite (and victims rarely want to hear) when finding out about someone’s tragedy is from Romans 8:28. “All things work together for good…” It would serve us all well to remember the last part of that verse before quoting it to others, or even ourselves. “All things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” It is a promise for those who follow God. There is NOTHING good about cancer, a plane crash, losing a son, a father, a husband, your house, or your livelihood. Nothing! But this verse does remind us that for those of us who love God, He is able to restore ANYTHING for our good and for His glory.
All things are certainly not good, but our powerful God can and will use all things for good to those who love Him. Just one of the many reasons to love God!
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Anne Hope is the award winning author of Bent Pages...a sharp, funny, and deeply inspirational narrative.
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