Friday, September 27, 2013

Clearer Vision on an Ordinary Night


I did not expect it to happen this way.  And to be honest, I am a little embarrassed.  Maybe being a mom may offer me some sort of pass but that's no excuse for finding myself overwhelmed by a sudden realization that literally brought me to tears.  In public.

Thank goodness for sunglasses.

It began as an ordinary day.  The kids were all at school while I spent the day writing and answering speaker requests.  I made dinner early and packed snacks to bring to the high school soccer game I would attend that afternoon and evening.

Normal. Normal. Normal.

I made it to the games with plenty of time to settle in and chat with the other soccer parents who had gotten there before me.  The JV team took the field and battled through a great game.  It was a gorgeous day. Seriously.  We are in the midst of a week or two of perfect weather.  Warm days, cool nights.  Perfect.  In the stands, we commented on the beautiful sunset that was to come and talked about how glad we were that the sun was about to dip beneath the trees.



When the JV game ended, we settled in for what would be another 2 hours of soccer, this time watching the Varsity players.  My oldest plays for this team and is a junior at the high school.  The team warmed up.  Just before standing for the national anthem, the starting line-up was introduced.  The team, gathered near their bench, huddled together to cheer on each player being called to the center of the field.  I have seen this done a hundred times.  Except, this time was different.  My son's name was called and I saw his blond head running through his team.  He began his run out to meet up with his teammates on the field and in a split second, it happened.  And I never saw it coming.

As he ran forward, the whole of his life passed right before me.  I am not kidding or exaggerating or being dramatic.  I didn't plan it or even think it or know it was coming.  It was an ordinary day and all of a sudden I am crying, in public, because I could see it all.  I could see him starting preschool in his yellow jacket, learning to play soccer with his skinny little legs, pouring over a book with his furrowed brow, laughing in the backyard while our dog licked his face, biking down the street with his hair in the wind, walking confidently across the middle school graduation stage, and heading tentatively into high school on that very first day.  I could see his infant face and his now-grown face and all the ways those faces are exactly the same.  And then, I could feel that it is almost done. I knew, in some deep visceral way, that the number of times I get to do this is getting smaller and that for all the days that raising children feels like a job that I will have forever, this moment was clarifying the truth.  There is an end-game.  And I am standing way too close.

I sat in the stands, choking back tears (as I am doing right now), and praying that no one would see.  I talked myself off the ledge and reasoned that my boy is only a JUNIOR.  I have another whole year on top of the one we just began!  I practiced my Lamaze breathing and dabbed casually at my eyes but I could not look away.  Because there he stood.  Taller than me and standing proudly in the center of a field he knows as well as our own backyard.  There he stood, closer to leaving than staying, far more adult than boy.  How does anyone not cry when you suddenly see the truth?  And when the truth holds so much depth and beauty and history and love, how are we not moved to tears?

On that nearly perfect night, I realized in brand new ways how blessed I am to parent this one good boy.  I realized that it is a gift beyond measure to find yourself sharing your life with teenager that you genuinely love and cannot bear to lose.  I realized that it matters that I pay attention to the absolutely ordinary days because, really, that is what makes up our lives.  And someday, I do not think I will be trying to recall all the big events we lived together as a family as much as I will be holding tight to the wonder that is found on a soccer field in September in the dusk of an ordinary night.



Blessings on your day.  

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Blog Rewind: 9/11-- The Way It Happened For Us





:::Each year, I post our experiences from September 11.  This is the day, as I remember it, twelve years ago:::


Noah was four. Benjamin was almost three. I had MOMs Group that morning and was trying desperately to get ready for the opening meeting of our season. The boys were watching Blue's Clues and I was trying to run a brush through my tangled tresses while answering the phone ringing with requests from freshman college students for keys and ideas and notes about classes. We were living at Trinity Christian College then, our family of four, as residence directors of South Hall.

I was later than I should have been and needed to get to church. I almost didn't answer the phone but thinking better of ignoring a call, I grabbed it and ran to the back to find shoes for my day. It was Mark.

"Is the TV on?" he asked.

"The boys are watching Blue's Clues..."

He said, "Nadia, we have been attacked. You have to turn on the news. Something bad is happening."

I don't remember hanging up but I remember turning the channel and looking at my boys... those little blond heads... those bright, wide eyes. I saw it then. So did they. The look on Diane Sawyer's face. The tone of Peter Jennings voice. The buildings. The airplanes. We stood still, the three of us and I suddenly thought that I needed to protect my boys.

I took them by the hands and led them to their toys. I turned off the sound on the TV and read through the captions instead. I tried to process it all, tried to think, tried to figure out what you do when this happens. I had no idea.

Working on a college campus is a complicated thing. I had a responsibility that morning to my babies playing with blocks and to the 250 freshmen students who lived in my building. Our building did not have cable and they were in class. Somehow they would have to be told what had happened to their country and without knowing exactly what to say, I typed a sign that we would hang in the building to help them to know that something had changed... that something had happened... that what we thought we were, where we thought we lived, how safe we felt, had all become something incredibly different. I did not save that document on my computer. I wish I would have. I know that I typed something about a terrorist attack in New York. I know that I tried to be calm and clear and follow Peter Jennings lead of giving only the information we actually knew. It suddenly felt like we knew nothing at all.

After posting the signs on every door in South Hall, I left quickly for church and the MOMs Group I helped to run. It was our opening morning. The boys were uncharacteristically quiet on the drive and I put the radio on only in the front of our truck. As I drove, a building fell. On the radio, they announced that several other airplanes were still "missing" and that they had no idea what to expect. I called Mark from the truck. He works downtown Chicago in a building that is part of our skyline.

"Come home." I said.

He told me that he was not sure he would be allowed to leave and I pleaded with him explaining that he really might not be safe. He talked about job security. He could not see the TV. He had NO idea what it looked like. The video was very motivating.

"If they fire you for leaving on a day like today, so be it. COME HOME."

He agreed and made plans to leave the city.

By the time I got to MOMs Group, the second building had fallen. Into church came moms, at least three with multiples, juggling their children and questioning the day. We had quads, triplets and twins in the nursery, tired mommas drinking coffee and a ministry to run.

Auto-pilot. Two and a half hours of auto-pilot. Welcome. Pray. Wonder. Chat. Wonder. Worry. Chat. Pray.

My cell phone rang as the moms were leaving. Mark was out of the city. We live 30 minutes from downtown and the commute had taken him nearly three hours. By the time he had gotten to the train to come home there were thousands of people downtown, crammed underground, fleeing Chicago in hopes of getting safely home to their families. He said it was scary seeing so many people in one place... knowing we could be attacked and thinking how they sat, waiting for trains, like sitting ducks.

We met at a restaurant and I don't know if I have ever been so happy to see him. Our city was never hit... but thinking that it might be was overwhelming to me. I could not begin to imagine the loss and heartbreak New York was experiencing... they were people just like me... but I had my husband home. I had him in front of me having a burger and thinking through this experience in discussion and exchanged glances and deep silences filled with words we would never be able to say.

By the time I got back to campus, the students were absorbing the news and were overflowing with questions and worries and feelings none of us knew how to process. The other residence directors and I met together quickly while Mark kept the boys away from any media sources. We had to do something but what do you do? No RD training that we had ever gotten had prepared us for helping the students to understand a terrorist attack on our country. We thought through the possible needs and planned to offer a live feed of the president's address that evening available in the college chapel. We called therapists, pastors and history professors to be on hand that night to meet the students where they were.

That evening after the president spoke, we let the students ask questions and I remember trying to answer them... knowing almost nothing myself. Everything about that day was outside my comfort zone. After the gathering, Mark and I sat in our South Hall apartment while students met with someone who could help them more than we could. Some were in prayer groups. Some were with therapists. Some were with pastors. Some were pondering the historical pieces with professors who could shed light on what this all might mean. I sat stunned in my apartment. Then, there was a student at the door... she was weeping. I invited her to come in.

I knew this young woman well and loved her positive outlook and example to students. It was so early in the year that there were more students we DID NOT know than those we did. But this one, I knew. She rushed into my apartment and sat on the couch. She cried and Mark and I waited for feelings to flow to thoughts to flow to words. I cried too.

"I don't know what's wrong with me... " she began, "but I just keep thinking about how sad I am for THEM... for the terrorists who were SO LOST that they would participate in such total evil."

Tears again.

We talked for a while about how she felt bad about feeling bad for them... about how her friends did not understand... about how there is no way to know how we will feel about something like this because we never saw it coming and have no way yet to process it at all.

We cried and prayed and then, with fewer tears, she left the calm of our apartment for the chaos of the residence hall. Mark and I talked about how hard it was for them... for the students who had just graduated from high school, just left for college, just been handed their world, only to find it laying in pieces at their flip-flopped feet.

Over time, the words ran out. The campus quieted. Around midnight, we closed our apartment door. And that was it... the end of the day.

For weeks after that day, I begged Mark to stay home again. I did not know how I would ever trust him to be safe in the city again. If they got New York, they could get Chicago, too. For months I could not go to the city I love so well.... and when I did, I got teary just thinking about the what ifs...

Most people have memories of that time in their lives. We have something more concrete. Because Mark shot video of all campus happenings throughout each school year, we have video taken on campus on September 10. That night we had run a program for roommates to get to know on another better. "Something to Chew On" was a laugh-out-loud list of questions intended to spark conversation between women who were just getting to know each other as friends. The students had come in pajamas and giggled like school girls and eaten cookies with hot chocolate just 12 hours before the whole world changed. It is strange to watch it now... knowing what the morning would bring, knowing what would follow on Mark's videotape next. A presidential address. Prayer groups. Professors discussing. Students embracing. September 11, 2001 in the lower right corner of the shot.

It has been twelve years. My boys, now 16 and almost 15 still remember that morning. They called it "the day the airplanes knocked over the buildings" for years, though they now know what it all really was. Our lives are different than they were then and I cannot claim they are not. For months following September 11 people said that if we changed anything about our day to day lives, the terrorists won. Such a strange request... to NOT change after having been through such a significant experience. I am changed. Maybe this is their victory but maybe, just maybe, it is mine.

Since September 11:

-I never take my skyline for granted. I love my city deeper and better than ever before and pray for those who lost loved ones in New York every time I drive into Chicago. I am raising my kids to know that we are exceedingly blessed to live where we live and love the city we call home.

-I value my family in a way I never knew to value them before. Finding out that the world can change first thing in the morning on a clear September day gave me perspective that makes me hug them tighter and hold them longer than I might have otherwise done.

-I understand bravery and sacrifice in a way that I never did before. How does a fire fighter rush into a building that will surely fall? How do you help when you know it may cost you everything? Sacrifice no longer means writing a check to help feed the hungry. It means giving it all. Offering it all. And I still stand AMAZED at those who did just that on the morning of 9/11.

-I know now that I cannot shelter my kids in the way I may have thought necessary before. Instead, I have to teach them... to see, to think, to feel, to learn and to build bridges... and yes, to be careful. Sheltering is nice but preparing is essential. I am careful in how this happens but I am also careful to be sure that it does.

Since September 11, truth be told, I am sometimes fearful, sometimes worried, sometimes unsure about what is happening in this world. But, hope is built as I see life go forward, as I watch my children grow up, as I enjoy a clear day in Chicago. We, as a country, were not destroyed. We did not become something dark and sad and broken. We, as a country, as a family, moved on to what was new for us. A new way to live and to love and to trust and to grow. There is hope in that. Can you see it, too?

Twelve years have gone by. It is hard to believe. The names are being read. The president is speaking. We all promise to remember and in doing so, honor the lives of those who were lost on that dark day. And as I sit here now, the faces of so many beloved students flash through my mind... those who walked with us as we found a path we never knew we would need... All of us, the students, MOMs Group, my two blond babies now grown taller, we all are connected in a way that is deeper and more profound than we otherwise would have felt. I am grateful for that because in my confusion and sadness and loss and anger, I did not walk alone. We did not walk alone. God granted us community.  He spoke in human voices.  He reached out through hands that were cloaked in flesh and blood. Through friends and family and acquaintances and community, God granted comfort to us in our grief.  No, we were not then and are not now alone.  And in that small but powerful way, the victory, the blessing, is ours.


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