In a very real way, every choice we make, each and every day, leads us onward in ways that change our lives forever, whether we know it or not. Every decision in favor of taking Avenue A over Road B means that all the results of choosing B are gone–sometimes permanently. We’ll never know what landmarks lie along that road, because we’ll never travel it at just that time, in just those circumstances, ever again. Apply this to any current event you please.
But there are days in our lives when we know–at that very moment–that everything has changed. For me, it was sometimes a choice I made…I chose Boston University over Williams College; I said “Yes, I will!” when the man I still love asked, “Will you?” Sometimes it was a defining event over which I had no control, as when a friend called and told me to turn on the TV, because an airplane had flown into the World Trade Center.
This isn’t a post about 9-11. But that dark day is part and parcel with a dark year of my life. One month after we watched, with our elementary-aged sons, the devastation of the two towers, I got another phone call. This one was from my dad who said, “Mom has stage 4 cancer.”
Which day do you think rocked my world more?
A little over a year later, we were all gathered at Mom’s bedside in Florida. She had been through chemo and radiation, had lost her hair and had it grow back in a completely different texture and color. We did a lot of laughing and reminiscing around that hospital bed, thanks to the drugs that kept the swelling on Mom’s brain under control so that she stayed lucid. I’ll never forget my tearful private conversation with her, when I told her how much I was going to miss her. “Of course you will,” she quipped. “There’s no one like me.” And just like that, I roared with laughter and startled both family and staff outside the door.
Mom often talked about the 9-11 victims. “They didn’t have time to say good-bye to their families. Some of them were so young.” By comparison, she rated her own life incredibly blessed. “God has been so good to me,” she said. “I have nothing to regret.” And although she was a lifelong health nut who had railed against the aging process, and who had spent so much energy (successfully, I might add) on looking youthful…Mom really meant it. She wasn’t bitter. She was thankful for her family and her experiences.
Mom died ten years ago today, on November 11, 2002. She was 62 years old.
There have been many defining moments since then, of course–for me and for our country. But I don’t think there have been any as profoundly, permanently life-changing. America knows now, in a way it never did before, that she is not invulnerable. She is not in any real way “safe.” And I know loss in a way that I had not experienced it since losing my grandparents when I was 10. The intervening 30 years had dulled that loss almost to nothing. But this one is the beginning of the many inevitable good-byes that punctuate the last years of our earthly lives: we bid farewell to parents, friends, and to our own younger selves’ dreams and abilities.
There are several possible responses to such moments–those moments when life happens, through no fault or volition of one’s own. Anger and blame is one response; dull resignation is another; one might choose to ignore the whole thing, or pretend it didn’t happen. Or one can determine to learn from such moments and go on with renewed purpose and strength.
For a time, that is what America did after 9-11. Now? I don’t know. I don’t have a lot of confidence in our nation, as a nation, to pull itself back from the brink.
As for me, I try to live each day in a full appreciation of my blessings, especially those of family and friends. This life isn’t forever, but it is a precious gift and not to be squandered. This appreciation is a part of my mother’s legacy to me, and one which deepens as I grow older.
I will do all I can to speak truth into my culture, to swim against the current, and fight the status quo. But that Big Picture ultimately begins with little choices, day in and day out, with my husband, my sons, my granddaughter, neighbors, shop clerks…
I love this Sara Groves song, “Generations”, so I’ll let her finish the sermon today:
“Remind me of this with every decision: Generations will reap what I sow./ I can pass on a curse or a blessing to those I will never know.”