Articles > Meditations and Musings > Of Ponds and People: A Reflection on September 11

Of Ponds and People: A Reflection on September 11

Published by Chapster on 2001/10/4 (4291 reads)

The Tuesday before last, September 11, 2001, I bought my ten year-old son a hot dog at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. We were on our way back to Dallas on a layover from Chattanooga. Before our trip began, Justin had been told to make sure and get a real Chicago hot dog. So there we were at about 7:00 AM, central time, getting the real thing. Just a little later, about 45 minutes, the plane was pulling away. The voice of the captain interrupted our crossword puzzles:"Ladies and gentleman, may I have your attention. We have just received news that there has been a terrorist attack on the United States, apparently in New York." Justin and I listened in shock and fear as the captain finished and passengers began using their phones to call associates and loved ones.

"Dad, what do they mean attack?...Dad, did you hear what the man in front of us was saying," Justin asked?

A short time later, we all left the plane to figure out what was happening and what we were going to do. All I knew at the time was that public buildings were targeted.

"Son, until we figure out what's going on, let's find a safe (read, well-supported) place to stay. And we've got to stay away from windows."

"Why, Dad?"

"Because, we don't know what's happening. All we know is that these terrorists are using planes and maybe bombs, and if they used a bomb or did something near glass, I wouldn't want you standing anywhere near it. I want to be somewhere safe (Dear God, is there anywhere safe?)."

Later in the baggage area....

"Now, Justin, look me in the eye," I say, pointing towards my face. When I clearly have his attention, I speak words no parent wants to say: "Justin, it's very possible that our lives are in danger. You must trust me as you never have before. You have to do exactly as I tell you to do and do it immediately. I don't want you asking questions when I tell you to do something. Just do it. You have to stay with me and not leave my side. Some very bad people have attacked our country and we don't know where or when it will stop. Until we are in a safe place, you must do as you are told. I promise you that I will take care of you, though."

He had a million questions, for which I had no real answers. I couldn't hide my fear from him. All I could do was to be strong for him, try to reassure him, and keep him affectionately close.

The events of September 11, 2001 will be remembered as some of the most atrocious spectacles in human history. As I have tried to make sense of them, I am reminded of the story of Narcissus. As I'm sure you remember from nasty old Social Studies class, the one where they discussed ancient mythology, Narcissus was "the hunk" of his times. He was so devastatingly handsome that women literally found him irresistible. Because he sharply rebuffed the romantic ambitions of Echo, he was punished by the gods (actually, just one god, but I can't remember who she was).

Anyway, this was his punishment. One day, while passing by a pond, he became entranced by the image of his reflection in that pond. In some way he was caught in personal rapture, engaged continuously by his gifts. The story only tells us that he was never able to remove his eyes from that pond. Whether he was trying to get himself into better shape, to enhance an already fine physique, or adjust his bangs, all we know from the story is that he withered away and died looking at himself. Near the pond, a flower, thereafter named for him, grew. Thus, the story of Narcissus gave birth to the term narcissism, the quality of being totally self-absorbed. Probably, you can think of a few people that fit this description.

I believe September 11, 2001 was a call for us to quit looking in the pond. Everything has been going our way for so long that we think it will always be that way, and worse, should be that way. We all want more of everything. We won't settle for anything less than 15% interest on our investments. We must drive a Lexus. We want more benefits from our government and from our jobs. We sue for millions because we failed to read the instructions that we weren't supposed to iron our pants while we were wearing them. We want to work less and have more days off. We become angry when we are inconvenienced. I am reminded of an incident in Seattle or Portland a few weeks ago where a woman threatening to jump off a bridge was told, "Jump, *****, Jump," by drivers who were held up in rush-hour traffic on the bridge. They were inconvenienced, so they encouraged her to go ahead and commit suicide so they could get home. At their urging, she jumped (she did survive the 160 foot fall).

It is natural for young children to be self-absorbed. Their world is small. Hopefully, they have at least one, and perhaps, two or more, very committed adults who watch over their tangible needs, nurture their spirits, understand their development, and protect them. In such an environment, it's only natural that they are narcissistic. Hopefully, as they develop and appropriate opportunities appear, they are gradually weaned from this view of the world.

But in these terrible moments, Justin and so many other children had their safe and secure worlds, threatened, and, in some cases destroyed. They learned horrible truths about the world that they had only understood abstractly from watching Saturday morning cartoons. They learned that it was possible that they, too, were vulnerable.

The tragedies of September 11 told the children what we as adults should have been reminding ourselves all along: "I am not the center of the universe." We lapse into small world syndrome, the belief that it's all about me or my immediate circumstances. We see little of the suffering of others. Our understanding of the world is filtered through the glasses of big-screen televisions, shallow media, and limited tolerance for contemplation. Our ability to consider actions is limited to how the results affect me. Many marriages break up because we often see only how we have been wounded, not how we have caused harm. We see only our world, our image, our pond, and miss the world around us.

Justin and I set up repeated flights to get back home, only to have them canceled. On Wednesday night, before Justin and I went to sleep, I said a prayer with him for the flight scheduled the next day ("Dad, I don't want to be on the first flight. I want some of them to make it before we get on."). After I prayed, he asked if he could pray, too.

"Of course, Bud."

He began.

"God, we've had a lot of trouble on this trip and a lot of people have been hurt and are very sad. We hope that you'll help them feel better. But, you helped make the trip better for us, so it wasn't so bad. Like the lady who didn't even know us and asked us if we needed a place to stay. And the waitress at the Chili's who gave us extra food because she felt bad for us. Thank you for Papa who sent us money to help. And for Nancy and John who let us stay with them and Bridget (their dog). And for the lady who was real nice when she gave us directions...."

This simple child's prayer, prayed by my frightened son laying at my side, melted my heart.

By looking away from his troubles, from his image, from his suffering, he saw a world of grace and hope, even in the midst of despair.

God bless all these sweet people who met our needs and the needs of others!

Blessings...Mike Davis and Barb Remakel (now, Davis!)

Written October 4, 2001
About two years before Mike and Barb got married

Tags: loss   meaning   support   attack   evil   September   terrorism   distress  

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