Archive for September, 2011

It was a perfect day, I remember.  I got up, sent Abby off to second grade that morning, kissed Ben goodbye, and went to work.  I kept looking at the sky as I commuted on Storrow Drive with my car pool buddies.  It was gorgeous, sunny, warm, skies clear.  Folks were out on the Esplanade along the Charles, and summer was hanging on and holding us in her embrace.  I was determined to take a walk at lunch time across the Common, at least, just to drink in the richness of the moment.

Then, it all happened.  All the tragedy, the unspeakable disaster, the terror of ten years ago.  Perfection, and innocence, vanished in moments.  We were told to go home, be with our families, be safe, get away from the State House and Beacon Hill.  And as I drove back home to Lexington, I kept wondering how such a beautiful day had turned into such a hideous catastrophe.  More than that, I really did wonder if, as T.S. Eliot suggested, the world were ending, “Not with a bang but with a whimper.”

My mother called, wanting to take us out to dinner at a really nice restaurant.  “If we’re going to blow up, we might as well have a good meal first,” she proclaimed.  Sure enough, I remember ordering Duck a l’orange for my entree, with escargots for a first course.  “What the hell,” I thought, my dad was right:  “When you’re on the Titanic, go first class.”  As we left the restaurant, we could hear the military planes taking off and landing from Hanscom Field nearby.

When we got home and had tucked Abby into bed and talked to our older daughter, Emily, at college, we went outside and stood on the steps and looked up at the night sky.  It was so…eerily…quiet.  No other aircraft, of course, just military planes circling Boston and other major cities, trying to protect us from a danger no one really knew.  We went to bed, held each other, cried, and hoped, for our children’s sake, we’d all live to see the next day.

I remember asking Ben whether we should try to get to Star Island.  Star, a place we had both grown up spending summers on, is only seven miles from Rye, New Hampshire.  Yet it feels like a million miles…like safety…like a refuge.  It’s an illusion, of course.  If major catastrophic damage struck the East Coast, it would almost assuredly hit the Isles of Shoals too.  But the feeling of being away from the madness was so strong, and my need to find somewhere safe to be was so palpable, that I was seriously thinking about running away with everyone to hide on Star.

All these thoughts came sweeping back into my mind because we were, last weekend, on Star Island on another beautiful, perfect day.  Ten years later, we were blessed to have both our daughters with us.  The sun shone, it was warm and the sky was deep blue.  I officiated at a Service of Remembrance for those who have helped to shape Star Island into the iconic and magical conference and retreat center that it has become.  Standing in the new Memorial Courtyard, leading worship as memorial stones were laid to honor our ‘ancestors,’ I could hear the waves crashing on the rocks, the cry of the gulls, feel the breezes, smell the salt tang in the air.

Later our family members helped Ben run an amazing treasure/trivia/scavenger hunt for our friends – an activity fun and fascinating.  We drank Lime Rickeys on the old hotel porch, Ben and Abby painted, Emily napped, I caught up with people I’ve known since childhood.  We ate lobster together, sang songs we learned when we were in college and working on Star, played board games with our niece and nephew.  And we posed for pictures which a dear friend (and professional photographer) offered to take of us.  All of us there, together, on an absolutely beautiful day.

Ben and I remarked that night at how fortunate we were, to have been blessed with that day, to have had our children and loved ones with us, to have been on Star, our own best place on earth.  Another beautiful day, ten years later than one that had begun so similarly and ended so differently.

May there be more beautiful days, more simplicity, more opportunities for all of us to revel in the ordinary beauty that comes from appreciating the gifts life holds and the family we so cherish.

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Like so many, my thoughts are turning to the tenth anniversary of the attacks on our country which forever changed my sense of safety, my assumptions around what it meant to live in the U.S., and my appreciation for life itself.  Ten years ago, serving as the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Director of Electronic Communication, I found out that something was wrong when Alison Miller, now a minister and then, an intern in our stewardship office, ran through the hall saying that New York was under attack.  Alison was a native of New York, so this was personal for her.  I tried to bring up CNN on my browser.  Nothing.  The New York Times – wouldn’t load.  NBC news – same story.  I knew that we were experiencing a major crisis, just because of that.

As the horrible events of the day unfolded, we all watched the grainy television in the staff lounge in horror.  For a while, we thought that one of our staff members was on one of the planes that went down.  With huge relief, we found out that – at the last minute – she had taken an earlier flight to the west coast.  Our President, Bill Sinkford, was in Washington, DC.  We learned that he would speak at All Souls Church that night, and that, along with a beautiful reflection from Meg Riley on how we talk with our children about such tragedies, became the beginning of UUA.org’s extensive coverage of the tragic events.

Our building, next to the Massachusetts State House, was closed due to security concerns.  I went home, and with the one other staff person in our office, began outlining what our web coverage of this unspeakable disaster would be.  My routine was to work till I could not do so any longer, stop for food or to watch something on the news or to kiss my daughter (we were very careful not to watch television, listen to the radio, or have the papers out while Abby was around:  this is not the news you want to share with small children, we decided), and then work again.  I would fall into bed, exhausted, and rise three hours later, going back to work again.  My colleague, the parent of an infant, did the same.

Saddest of all, we decided to profile the Unitarian Universalists we could identify who had died on that horrible day.  I tracked down their survivors, and each phone call was the same.  I would introduce myself, offer them my deepest condolences on behalf of the Association, and then ask them to tell me about their loved one(s) who had died.  I asked for a photo, asked about memorial services.  I promised them we would not forget and vowed that I’d try to hold to my word on that one — offer the story of those people, their work, their lives, so that others might know them and also remember.  Then, I would hang up the phone, sob, and write the profile of each person.

The work went on for weeks this way, as more features went up on the web, worship resources, commentary, and more.  We were gratified when the Library of Congress notified us that its Minerva Project had decided to archive our September 11, 2001 website to preserve our work.  Today, as we approach the anniversary, I look back on that archived UUA site and wonder how it was we managed all that coverage with two staff people and no other resources to speak of.

And now, I know that there is at least one other name that should be added to the list of those who died as a result of the attacks:  Drew Stein, a member of the congregation I attend (First Parish in Lexington, MA), died this summer.  Drew lived in Manhattan in 2001, and his death, from sarcoidosis, was a result of the asbestos and other toxins he inhaled after the attacks.  Drew will be remembered formally in a service at First Parish in the coming months, but I want to mention his name now, so that we all will remember him when we think back on 9/11.

In my head, I keep hearing the words to the best-known song from the musical, “Rent,” which asks, “How do you measure a year in the life? …In day light, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee, in inches, in miles, in laughter in strife…how about love?”  The people we lost — all those people who the New York Times remembered, and those, like Drew, who have died since that day — had lives we could measure in different ways.  Gone now, I believe they mattered, that they were loved, loved others, and that we will continue to remember them.

On Sunday, I’ll be standing on the Battle Green in Lexington at 6 PM with members of many faith communities to mark the tenth anniversary.  I will think about those good people, what possibilities life yet holds for all of us who call the United States home, and I will remember.

I, like most of the people I know, am forever changed by what happened ten years ago.  I do not take things for granted; I try to look for the gifts each day holds.  And I know that the value of my life is always best measured in love.

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