I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss. Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. ~Lamentations 3:20-23
Fifteen years is a lifetime for my friend’s daughters now in middle and high school. It’s almost half of my son’s life story. It’s a portion of my marriage. It’s a yet-to-be discovered number for my grandkids.
But at this moment, 15 is weighty, a number crowded with story upon story. 15 is looking at us and wondering what we now believe.
I remember the days before the day. It wasn’t the first time my world had been ravaged by terrorism. In 1995, my hometown had been shaken by a homemade bomb in a rental truck wrapper. The memories remain crystal clear of where I was and what I was doing at the exact moment my boss asked me to come into his office. I was in television at the time, and he had turned a chair to face the four screens that flashed their images along the wall. I stared as downtown Oklahoma City burned and bled, tears streaming down my face as I wondered where my family and friends were. There was no instant access to anything then – no texting or social media. It would be days before I would find out who lived – and who didn’t. Our television station in Dallas worked with The Salvation Army and a local grocery story chain to raise money for the families of the victims. We helped with funeral expenses, donated blood, and prayed. The smallest flickers of hope were there, shining through the cracks forged by hate.
Yes, I had felt the pain of domestic terrorism before. But global terrorism was for other places, far away places, places we would pray would someday know freedom and security and hope.
I remember the day in 2001, the day 15 was born in sparks and smoke and voice messages saying “I love you,” followed by silence and sirens. I woke up in Los Angeles, ready to start another day at the LA Road Show, an entertainment conference filled with movies and music and games. Turning on the television for some background noise as I grabbed my tennis shoes for an early morning workout, I was greeted by the picture of a tower burning. “What a morbid movie,” I thought for a flash of a moment, until the plane hit the second tower.
“Oh, precious Jesus – this is real. This can’t be happening,” I whispered, unable to turn away from the fury.
The phone rang, jarring me back to the early morning in Los Angeles. “Did you see that? I’ve got friends who work at the World Trade Center, Ronne.” Heather’s voice was shaking. Soon, a small group of coworkers was gathered together in one hotel room, quietly watching what was taking place on the other side of our country. The television was our only picture into the pain as the world grieved.
Hours later, Heather, Trish, Lori, and I would decide to take our rented car and drive west. We wanted to be home, to hug our families. We wanted to talk to our friends in New York and DC, we wanted even more for 9/11 to be a scary dream that could be shooed away with a “there, there, it’s all better now.”
I remember the days after the day we chose to go home.
It would take us almost three days to get from LA to Dallas in a rental car that broke down, had to be duct taped together, and was finally replaced two days and two states later. We drove through desert, mountains, thunderstorms, and sunshine. At every stop along the way, we met people connected by one simple phrase – where they were driving from and where home was. “Seattle to Boston,” “Utah to Louisiana,” “San Francisco to Tulsa.” There was singing and there was silence. We mapped out our journey to take us to a Dairy Queen for chocolate soft-serve in the Mojave desert and to a sunset at the Grand Canyon, just to breathe in life. We gave ourselves permission to laugh and to cry, and we stopped and prayed with the nation at an oddities shop in the tiny west Texas town of Quanah. And more than once, we yelled out in our best Braveheart voices, “They can’t take away our freedom!”
In the midst of the nation’s tears, I remember the smiles. Strangers greeted each other with an embrace. People said “no, you first.” Conversations lasted a bit longer around the table, and prayers lasted longer too. Simple kindnesses didn’t go unnoticed. We blessed and didn’t curse. We said “thank you” more.
It didn’t last long, but for a while we all understood what it means to be connected. For a while, we saw the hope again, shining through the cracks forged by hate.
It’s been 15 years now. I look at my friend’s daughters. 9-11 is to them pages in a history book or videos on YouTube. Yet it touches them every time they travel, when TSA officers ask them to remove shoes and make sure liquids are small and contained in plastic bags. They’ll never know the joy of running off an airplane and into the arms of someone waiting at the gate.
And I wonder what 15 will bring for my grandchildren. The way we look at people has forever changed – what and who we define as safe. Vocabulary has changed since their dad was a boy. His childhood ISIS was an Egyptian goddess with a Saturday morning TV show. The TV is now filled with different images – of darkness doing its best to destroy light. News feeds keep fear ever-present, and everyone watches with wary eyes in a world wracked with pain.
15 is here, and it wonders what we now believe.
15 is here, and this is my response.
I believe that evil can try, but evil will never prevail. In attack, In trouble, In trial. In struggle. Hope will always always always shine through the cracks forged by hate. And so today, I pray hope finds us. I pray we find home. And I pray we once again understand what it means to be connected. I believe that prayer will be answered. I believe Love wins.
I have to believe.
Melius enim iudicavit de malis benefacere, quam mala nulla esse permittere. (For God judged it better to bring good out of evil than not to permit any evil to exist. ~St Augustine)