I have experienced many ups and downs in my life, but only two soul-shattering events that ripped my perception of reality to shreds. The first was 18 years ago today. My boys were eight and five; we were a few days into third grade and kindergarten. I was new to having the house to myself during the day and was thrilled to have a work-at-home job doing technical illustration. It was a beautiful morning and I was all smiles after dropping the kids off at school and sitting down at my computer with a fresh cup of coffee. Tony Macrini, a popular local radio personality, was joking and babbling on WNIS and I was thinking life is good. Suddenly Tony Macrini’s voice changed in tone. “Folks we have to get serious now. A plane has just hit the World Trade Center in New York City. We don’t know yet if it was an accident….” And just like that the curtain came down on a chapter of my life and the world changed.
Those of us who are old enough to remember September 11, 2001 will know what I am talking about. Suddenly the safety we took for granted in America disappeared and a fog of uncertainty took over. Fear and grief for what we believed about our country up to that point took over. Tom came home from work; we picked the kids up early from school. We stared at the TV in horror and disbelief as the towers collapsed. Many people had deaths in their families that day, but for me, it was like a death of something else – reality as I knew it up to that point. I remember feeling so grateful for my children. They were….alive.
….Until nearly 15 years later, August 8, 2016, when one of them wasn’t. That, of course, was the second soul-shattering even in my life, and it was more personal, closer up, and more reality-busting for me than was 9/11. It showed me the difference between the most dramatic world event, in which none of your own loved ones die, and the quietest personal event, in which your loved one does die. Jesse’s death was not dramatic. He slipped away from this world in his sleep and no one even knew until hours later. And yet it took me much longer to put the pieces of my soul back together than in the aftermath of 9/11.
Both events changed me forever, and yet I have survived, hopefully a wiser, more loving person. One change is that the idea that we are eternal souls has transformed from theory to rock-solid knowledge. Neither war nor the death of those we love most nor our own deaths can destroy one of God’s human beings. If we live with faith in the ultimate victory of love, if we do not capitulate to evil, if we get back up every time we get knocked down, our future is bright and exciting. Even if we are utterly defeated and, for a time lose faith entirely, there is always hope. God exists and this world is not all there is.