Finding hope in dark times
When I was spreading peanut butter on Lucy’s toast last Tuesday, the World Trade Center was burning.
When I was filling her sippy cup with milk, people in New York City were dying.
And when I clicked on the TV to catch some news headlines before starting work for the day, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
It wasn’t until then, of course, that I knew anything was wrong. It was such a simple morning, completely routine, right down to the part where Lucy threw her breakfast on the floor.
Yet in the midst of this ritual, the world as we know it changed. I say the world as we know it, because for many people, heartless, unexpected violence is as normal as rain.
It’s rare to watch catastrophic destruction on live TV. It’s so rare, in fact, that it looked like fiction, like a Hollywood interpretation of doomsday.
It didn’t feel that way, though. As I watched the World Trade Center burn, I could see in my minds’ eye thousands of workers filing down the stairs, desperate for another flash of sun on their faces. When the tower collapsed on itself and send forth a tornado of dust and glass and steel, I knew I was watching people die. All I could do was hold Lucy on my lap and weep.
There’s something about being a mother that makes all the world’s evil feel that much worse. Those people in that building were someone’s children. Many of them had children of their own.
When your life is defined by the creative act of becoming a parent, and when the rhythm of your day is defined by a steady desire to protect and nurture and love the life you wrought, you also develop the capacity to suffer greatly through the loss of others. That could be have been me, you think. That could have been my husband; that could have been my child.
For most people, having children is the one miracle you will experience. You’re part of a mysterious, creative energy that hums in all life, everywhere. Whether you bear your own children, or raise children borne by others, you get to plunge your hands deeply into the daily, constructive effort of life. It is the opposite of terrorism, the opposite of destruction. When you make the choice to have a child, you align yourself against the enemies of death and indifference. Being a parent changes you, in that you feel the loss and hurt of every child, everywhere.
And this is not the only way having children changes you. It changes the way you look at others. It gives you power to see beauty you could not see before. I felt this keenly later in the week, as wracked family members held up sheets of paper with pictures of their missing loved ones. The smiling faces on the fliers overwhelmed me, especially in contrast to the grim faces of the grieving. The lost ones all looked radiant, sitting behind neat desks, on soft couches, smiling broadly, so painfully innocent of their fate.
What made them so beautiful was that they looked real, imperfect, and sincere — so much like the people I hold dear. They weren’t supermodels struggling mightily with the effort of getting out of bed after a hard night of being fabulous. They were regular people with regular haircuts and regular, hopeful eyes, just doing the best they could to live their lives.
And — as you could tell by looking at the people who’d put together those fliers — they were loved.
More than 6,300 people were killed last week. If we were to grieve each life for just one day, it would take us more than 17 years to finish the task. But the families that lost their husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, daughters and sons will grieve far longer than a day. They will grieve years. They will grieve lifetimes. Their sorrow will travel through time like the ripples of water from stone hurled into the widest lake. Those rings of sadness will reach outward to infinity.
But the grieving families will also carry on with their lives, because that is what their loved ones would have wanted them to do.
Terrorism makes it that much harder to carry on. It plants the twin seeds of fear and hatred, seeds that grow into crippling, choking plants. And that, of course, is the point. Terrorism takes lives, and it aims to maim the ones that are left. It is fueled by inhumanity, and it breeds the same. Misery begets misery, and in this, terrorists find their power and their joy. It’s like cancer, because to kill it, you run the risk of killing yourself.
But there is also hope. And oddly, I find it in terrorism’s darkest center. When violence can erupt anywhere, something else is born. Each of us becomes a soldier; each of us has the opportunity to do heroic things.
If the world has changed, it also means we have a new opportunity to dedicate our lives to things that are greater than ourselves, things that transcend our span of years.
These things are family and community. They are love and peace, acceptance and understanding. They are tolerance and compassion. They are courage and commitment in crisis. They are the things that create a hopeful future for our children, and for other people’s children, and for those generations yet to inherit the earth.I find great comfort in the fact that, in times like these, some of the most heroic things we can do are simple: live, and love.