Castles in the Sand

When the waters rise, will our castles remain?

I probably shouldn’t even say anything. So many people far more eloquent than me have already written beautiful essays about the importance of remembrance, looking both to the past and the future and never allowing ourselves to be shackled to memories of pain.

And honestly, I don’t even know what I want to say. If ever there was a way to undermine a post about anything, I’m pretty sure I just did that. But I’m just going to go for it and we’ll see where it goes.

Ten years ago, I remember exactly where I was when I first heard the whispers. I always dozed on the bus to school;  I’m not a morning person and it was a crazy early bus. But I overheard someone in the seat next to me talking to his friend about something he’d heard on the radio on the way to the bus stop. Something about the Twin Towers. Something bad.

I was half-asleep and didn’t really know what was going on, so I didn’t give it much more thought. When I got to school and walked into my class at about 7:00 a.m. (Algebra II/Trig. with Mr. Lahti!), the TV was on the news and I saw the smoke. Here’s a confession that in retrospect I wish I would never have to make. I don’t know if it was my still groggy state or my own denial of what was going on, but my gut reaction to what I saw was to laugh. Not some crazy maniacal laugh of insensitivity, but just a little chuckle of self-absorption or something. I honestly can’t figure out what caused it.

It wasn’t long before it really hit home. My family had been to New York City the year before and driven right by the World Trade Center, looking up to the sky to see the tops of the buildings. The year after the attack I returned to New York City, this time with the Kamiak Showband as we marched in the Macy’s Parade. We drove by Ground Zero and just spent a few minutes looking at nothingness – by that point it was pretty much empty aside from fences that blocked anything remaining from view. It was surreal.

Now flash forward to today. One of my high school friends posted on Facebook a comment about how she hopes today will serve as an opportunity to ask ourselves what we are doing to make the world a better place. And I thought it was a really well-proposed thought. So I followed it and sat for a few minutes to ask myself what I’m doing to make the world a better place.

My first thought was to recall that horrible gut reaction to my initial image of the towers. Then I thought about how much I’ve changed since then – how much I’ve grown and matured to a point where I would never have such a reaction to such an image. And I believe that is absolutely the case. I like to believe that I have become a much more selfless person than I’ve been in the past, and I hope that will continue.

But as much as I want to remember and honor the past, I can’t help but think about the present and future. My generation was young when we witnessed the horrors of 9/11/01, and we’ve come of age in the following decade. It has been a decade of great turmoil and disillusion. We’ve seen an endless war, a nation completely split by politics and a massive economic depression. We’ve seen so much to turn our hearts to stone and change us into selfish and despicable people.

But that hasn’t been our response. Our generation has not turned to stone; we have not become disillusioned and we have not given up hope. Like all generations before us, we have made (and continue to make) a lot of mistakes, but we have not been afraid to grow and experience those pains.

Perhaps the best example of this hope that I see is in yet another glance at my friends from the past and present. In the past several months I’ve attended three weddings for friends I truly care about, and I know of several more that have taken place over that stretch. Even more recently, I’ve seen new engagements, including that of one of my best friends in high school – just yesterday.

Out of my two closest high school friends, one married a few months ago and the other is now engaged. I could make all kinds of jokes (as I’m sure all of you reading – both of you – are doing in your head right now) about what that says about me and my current status on the relationship spectrum (hint: complete opposite end). But when I heard about both engagements, I was so genuinely excited and happy for these men and their brides. Even though I have hardly seen either of these two friends in the past several years and don’t know when I will again, it made me so excited to see the hope and joy present in their lives as they prepare for a whole new chapter.

Perhaps I am just reaching that age where everyone I know gets married – it does seem to be happening at a rapidly increasing frequency. But having the past decade, probably one of the most depressing in recent history, serve as the formative teen and early-20s years of our lives, I believe there is something more to be seen. We are not falling victim to the arrows of defeat. Instead we are choosing hope, joy and survival, and we are finding others with whom to share it. Weddings are notoriously joyful events, but in a cultural time where fewer people are choosing to get married, it has been a genuine opportunity to see the hope God calls us to in the experience of these couples as they begin their lives together.

So today, 10 years later, I want to honor those who have given their all. I still struggle to re-watch footage from that day, and it becomes even more difficult when I think about all that our world has endured since that time. As I mentioned at the beginning, my words pale next to those of so many others, but I share those emotions and thoughts.

I am so thankful for all the ways I’ve been blessed in my life, and I truly hope that with each day I become just a little less selfish. But I will take the past as something to be remembered and not something to hold us back. I will look at all my friends, my generation and all others who have endured the past decade, looked upon all the hell that has been unleashed on the world, and chosen love over indifference. Despite all we’ve been through and all that is still to come, let us honor the memory of those lost and affected on Sept. 11, 2001, with perhaps the truest statement in all of Paul’s letters: love never fails.

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