Book 2 - Chapter 8 - Hopelessness and Terror
The hallway of my room was stacked with clear Rubbermaid boxes housing everything I thought I would need in my new life in college. I glanced at my desk in the corner, empty but for my little Bible that still sat where I had left it in the back of the drawer the year before. Then I turned and stepped up the mirror, noticing the index cards that remained taped to the back of that door. Each one home to a different verse of Scripture.
I had never gotten around to taking them down.
I scanned them curiously, eyeing each line of every card as I had done daily for years before that.
These verses were all the Bible I had read for at least a year. Ever since I had stopped cracking my own copy open or making my way through the doors of our little church and listening to the words our pastor had to say. When I felt lost between those glimpses of woo and wonder at the youth rally compared to the religion I learned about when I slid into those crimson red pews. I had tossed that application to Bible school in the trash and turned from Christianity in the same moment. No longer sure how Jesus and God factored into the equation of my daily life.
Just reading them reminded me of the girl I once was, a kid who reveled in Scripture. So much so that I often sat writing passages down on little cards and pinning them to the doorway, the wall and anywhere in-between. Handing them off to friends, elderly folks at church, or to my mom. Whoever I thought might benefit from them at the time.
And in their own way, each word still felt so near to me, but also unmistakably far away. As if somehow, in my time away from church and my Bible I had stopped looking to them and seeing their meaning.
I knew God was real. I believed in Jesus. But I had lost my way somewhere in the details and the equations I sought to resolve in my daily life.
Maybe God was just a far-off ruler, watching us in the distance as we stumbled our way through this weird and gritty world. Taking note of each time we tripped and fell along the way and then weighing it like tallies upon a chart. Seeing where we stood in the Jesus-plus-our-effort-equals-heaven-equation.
As a little girl I had always sensed a nearness to God, and a closeness to the idea of Jesus. But maybe I had been wrong about that too. Just as I had been wrong for a moment about power and strength compared to meekness and humility.
Maybe the reality was that both God and Jesus couldn’t be calculated into the moments of my ordinary days. In my time spent in-between living and dying.
Leaving the details of this life, these hours, lived out in this body in the midst of the here and now of this earth in my own two hands. My comfort, my security, my happiness and my success depending solely on my own effort and might.
I looked away from the cards and then studied my face. My skin tone lighter than it once was after two years spent shielding it from the sun. Each scar still there, but noticeably fading. They speckled my forehead a bit like sprinkles on top of a sundae. And my right eye still carried a line full of bumps, the most obvious sign of that time when my whole face was quite wounded.
Then I turned from my room and reached for the light switch, making my way towards the door.
Once in my car I turned the key and slowly descended the steep hill of our driveway, adjusting my mirror and noticing how beautiful the day was.
I rolled down my window and turned up the radio as I made my way down the roads towards my work.
I hadn’t gotten far before the radio host came on air to offer up some strange and troubling news, his voice chilled and shaky. Humor drained completely from his typical carefree banter. His words cracked as they came over the airway, a plane had hit the World Trade Center.
But there wasn’t a cloud in sight.
Instead, the sky was a perfect blue. Looking down upon us with such optimism that I concluded what I was hearing must have been a lie.
I pulled my car over and looked up, processing his words and feeling incredibly small. Knowing that in New York, just two hundred miles south, it had to have been the same sky.
It was too clear for a plane to not see a building. There was no storm. No clouds. No fog. No snow. No rain. It was a bright and remarkably beautiful fall day. It made no sense at all.
I sat there, still staring up, suspended in time as I considered the people. The people in the plane. The people in the building. In the bustling city below. What was happening to them at that very moment? Were they OK? Did they make it? What was going on in all of those places?
I pulled my car back onto the road and continued driving, still staring up at our shared sky. A broken plane. It had to have been a broken plane. An accident. It must have been an accident. A bad engine. A pilot with a heart attack. There must have been some explanation for something so terribly wrong.
Then I slowed to a stop at the next light and gazed around at my surroundings. The sound of my blinker indicating my next right turn.
But then again, over the radio. It happened once more. Another plane. Another building. I felt my arms tensing. I stared up again at the sky. Still so blue. It was too close. The buildings were too close. The timing was too close.
“This is not an accident,” the radio host replied at almost the same moment as I had expected it, his voice void of all tone and personality. “There is something wrong here. We are under some kind of attack.”
A chill unlike any other I had ever felt ran down my spine and I shuddered to myself as I considered the implication of his words. Suddenly I wasn’t sure which way to go. I thought about the bustling campus I would be calling home in two short weeks. The buildings. The tulips. The cobblestone paths. The train. The traffic. Was that next? Was a plane about to fly right into that too?
Should I turn around and head back home? Or keep going forward towards work? My body began to tense up. What was happening? And was it about to happen here? Where was safe and what were we being attacked by?
Endless questions stirred in my mind as the shadows of a dark cloud of fear erupted in me and made everything as black as night. Nothing felt beautiful anymore. Nothing felt safe. There was no optimism. No part of the town I knew so well, or even the road before me, that felt familiar enough to move down it. It all seemed jumbled and confused, veiled in some way by a cloak of night.
I could feel myself cycling back through a list of options. To the car? Or the house? Where to hide? The sun felt too bright and heavy above me. My arms and shoulders tensed in response.
Where was my dad? I had wondered. He flew constantly at this exact time of day. Where was my mom, who worked in downtown Boston? And my brothers? One just outside of New York. One in downtown Boston. Where were my people?
We were under attack. But what did that even mean?
I pulled into the driveway of the small pet store where I worked in the center of town and went inside. My eyes still locked on the sky above. The sky still said the day was beautiful, and skies weren’t supposed to lie.
My co-workers and I followed the news that whole day. Glued to a tiny 8 x 8 black and white television that had a crappy signal and our radio in the little back office. Our best source of information in the days pre-dating the rise of the internet, smart phones, and social media.
People came in, bought their pet food with strained, pained looks in their eyes. No one knew what to think. Or what to do. Or what was next. For any of us. Our hearts were collectively broken. Unified by a profound loss of hope. Shattered by a sense of fearful anticipation of what would come next.
The sky in all of its blueness sat eerily silent the whole day. The jets that usually crisscrossed the air above us were replaced by military planes and helicopters.
News came of more threats. Bridges were targeted. Another plane crashed in DC and then one more in Pennsylvania.
We didn’t know how to live under attack. So instead, we just sat motionless and watched in horror over and over again as the buildings fell like a stack of cards. The Pentagon, with steam wafting from its broken side. The field in Pennsylvania, smoke drifting from piles of charred up plane. The images on repeat hour after hour. Human bodies falling to the ground along with the debris. We were terrorized.
Heat lightning roared in the distance the whole night and in the absence of rain, each thundering crash seemed just as likely to be another explosion. Tempting us to imagine more destruction. More loss. More tragedy. More attack.
The country stood still for days, weeks, and months, as droves of rescuers searched for human beings in a hot and steamy pile of wreckage. Our TVs filled with images of thick smoke, ashes and the faces of families searching for their loved ones in vain. Holding on to the hope that their father, their daughter, their husband, their person might be one of the voices that still echoed from beneath the melted steel beams, and remnants of glass and concrete.
There was chaos. And grief. And disbelief. And pain. And then, the voices stopped sounding from beneath the shards of that destruction. And as only silence echoed back, those left still looking turned away with shattered hope felt from the memory of sounds they could never again expect to hear.
The little pet supply store where I worked was just one mile from the headquarters of a corporation that lost seven young female employees who were all traveling on the same plane. And with Logan airport just 20 miles away, the suburbs of Boston were shaken. Everyone knew someone who was either on the planes or who should have been. For days, and weeks and months, I listened as my customers came in one after one and shared their own stories with me of that day.
I was the girl who sold pet food. The therapist. The ear. The one who would listen as people sounded off with words that desperately needed to be spoken to someone who would listen and hear.
I heard about the woman who missed her flight that morning because she accidentally hit her neighbor’s dog and had to bring it to the vet.
Then the tale of the parents who traveled often and always on separate planes, one booked on flight 11 and one on flight 175, but both decided to stay home and not miss “meet the teacher” night for their young daughter on that day.
I listened over and over again to each strange tale. Wondering what it was behind the stories of those who showed up and those who didn’t. Was it luck? Fate? A feeling in their gut? God? What was it that ultimately led some towards those planes and others away from them? The dividing line between those who had boarded the planes, and those who had not. Those who lived to talk about it, and those who did not. Those once smiling faces whose lives came to abrupt halts on those doomed planes. Reducing the ongoing story that was once theirs to clips and snapshots on a news reel. Full of moments that could no longer be touched. Wedding days, the birth of babies, fishing trips and vacations. Memories of the past with no hope for a future.
I listened to each story, day after day, from my spot behind that cash register. Sensing the deep need felt by everyone to just talk. To lament. To wonder about life and death. And heaven and hell. And the decisions that we make in-between. And I silently deliberated along with them, with no answers of my own.
Then I would go home, turn on the news and learn the stories of the people who went to work that day in those towers. The ones who happened to be out for a smoke break when the planes hit. The ones who were running late. Or who had a sick kid. Or those who were just sitting at their desks with no way out. The bodies that were flung into the sky. The shaky phone calls to spouses to say I love you and goodbye.
Suddenly, the world felt like a massive wilderness that we had been left to navigate alone. Warding off all of the evil that lurked in the dark corners for ourselves. The wolves, the bears, and the snakes. It didn’t matter where we were, death could come and find us. In our offices. On our commute. In the comfort of our own homes.
The only thing that we could trust to guide our safety was each decision we carefully made. And how could we know for sure if the move was a good one? A left or a right? A forward or wait? Show up or stay home? Onward or halt? On September 11th, and for all those people, those decisions made the difference between them being with their families on September 12thor them being lost beneath charred beams and the melted remains of planes. And what, I wondered back then, did it say about God in light of that? How could God possibly still be known as love when captured God through the lens of September 11th?
How could God be all powerful and not have not acted on those people’s behalf?
Who was God to have sat, capable of intervening, but motionless instead, watching as human beings fell from the sky?
Why would God ever sit back and let evil reign in such a monstrous way? And how could I ever trust God again in light of that?
If God wouldn’t intervene on behalf of those towers full of people, or those packed planes, then I certainly shouldn’t expect God to be there for me.
This was a dark and evil world and I was tip toeing through it, alone.
Is there more to this life? In this now, on this planet?
And is there more to the God who put us here?
Or is the whole point to just stay between those lines?
Striving with all of our might to make it through and keep it together as best as we can?
Is there more to salvation and to the gospel of Jesus Christ than just staying on some line and trying to live up to some notion of “good enough?” Struggling to maintain our position on a road that, when you stand up and see it from a distance - really looks like more of a loop?
Resembling a cycle that just keeps repeating itself? Sin and be forgiven. Sin and be forgiven.
Is this the freedom Jesus came to proclaim?
Is the entire reason behind Jesus’ coming here and taking up flesh and dying and rising again just so that we can spend our time here with our heads down traveling in circles waiting for some day in the future when we leave it all behind?
Did the God who designed gravity. Photosynthesis. The moon. The sun. The stars. You. Me. Our ancestors. Every nook and cranny of this universe. The God who brought order to the chaos that was this place. Making light to blast out darkness. And who then made us, human beings, in His own image. Just to live out our lives in the middle of some road that doesn’t actually go anywhere?
Spinning our wheels trying to look like we have it more together than we do? Trying to pass off some so so version of righteous enough, or holy enough? Forgetting that we never will be, but so focused on it that we never stop to look up long enough to notice the loop and turn to ask God himself if this is what it is all about?
I was in the check out line at a grocery store in Boston recently when a kind elderly man, who I suspect hails from Southie, labeled me, “from The South.”
“Im from here!” I replied in haste. Raising my arms as if I was trying to stop a train. Anxious to reaffirm my New Englander status and all those years of shoveling snow and riding with the MBTA. I was a Bostonian. That concrete below us was my old stomping ground and I could not allow that to be challenged by this gruff, albeit charming, old man.
But as I stepped outside, I realized that I have really started to annunciate my “r’s”. And developed my own strange version of a southern twang, at least by Southie standards. I use ‘wicked’ less and don’t rely as heavily on sarcasm. And I love my new home.
So maybe I’m somewhere in-between them both. Neither here nor there completely. A little Boston and a little southern too.
The following day Ruth and I stood in the security line at the airport and I studied the people there. Because Im creepy like that.
I noticed the young women. Looking like they were in a rush, when really they probably weren’t. I recognized some of myself in them too. Remembering those days when I thought juggling at the airport involved Star Magazine and four snacks of my own. Wondering if I had time to down a margarita before boarding.
I remember being 26. And I can still feel 26 inside of me. But Im 36 now. And things are different here.
Now I have a bag full of barbies and crayons. And Im toting around books on the Enneagram. And Im juggling a five-year-old who is low on sleep and high on Dunkin Donuts. A different kind of explosive than the ones they screen for in the TSA line.
Still I love traveling with her. Though she toes the line between joy and despair with each step towards the gate. But just like I am somewhere in between two states I call home. And somewhere between two decades of my life. She and I are somewhere in-between together too. And the in-betweens are where life is lived. Our moments are what happens as we are moving from each place to the other. And they demand our presence, not our haste.
What feeds your soul and keeps you running?
Here are a few of my answers…
God & His Word
this little farm with its garden and animals
church and community
there are hints of all of these here on the site and in the work that I do. I would love to know your answers!
send me a note here…
I post a lot of our moments in-between on Instagram. You can follow along with us there!