Posts Tagged ‘tragedy’

Take care

On Monday, I rode home from work on a crowded subway train, walked the short distance to my apartment, started a load of laundry. My husband sent a text message to say he was on his way home. I started a pot of water boiling for pasta, washed and chopped a few stalks of asparagus, grated a bit of Parmesan cheese. It all felt – dare I say it? – so normal.

Except, of course, that it wasn’t.

Farmers' tents in Copley Square

Farmers’ market tents in Copley Square

By now, most of the world has heard about the explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, which killed three people and injured more than 100 others. I would have been horrified to learn about this event if I still lived in Texas, or in England, or anywhere else. But for nearly three years, I have lived and worked in the Boston area.

Copley Square, the same patch of ground that hosts the finish line, is also the location of beautiful Trinity Church and my beloved Boston Public Library, and the farmer’s market I used to visit all the time. I have friends who work in the John Hancock Tower in the Square, and in a publisher’s office one block away. My former workplace, Emerson College, is five blocks from the blast site. I work in Cambridge now, across the river, but Boston is still my town. And that area is my neighborhood.

Sept 2010 160

I am shocked, saddened, sick at heart, that someone chose to mar the most joyous day of the year in Boston – even if you’re not a runner (and I’m not), the city bubbles with excitement on Marathon Monday. This tragedy reminds me of Newtown and Aurora, of Columbine and 9/11 and Oklahoma City – and even the reminding makes me ache, because there should not be a long list of these events stretching back in my memory. Of all the words that occur to us at such a time, the phrase not again should absolutely not be among them.

Yet I am also humbled, by the dozens of text messages and emails and posts on social media sites, from people checking on me, and also on each other. It reminded me of the snowstorm this winter, when we lost power and my family and friends kept checking on us, and of the days after Hurricane Sandy, when, as Alyssa wrote so eloquently, people kept calling out to one another, via phone and email and the vast huddle of the Internet.

Are you okay? Were you anywhere near where it happened? Did you get home all right? Let us know. Be safe. Take care. We love you.

My mom and dad, my sister and my aunt, all in Texas. My friends from college and high school, scattered around the globe. My friend Allison in New York, who sent a text that read, “You and J are our Boston family.” My friend Abi, who lives across town and texted me to make sure I had gotten home safely, after her own ride home on a near-empty train. So many friends I’ve met online, but never in person, and friends I met online who have since become in-person friends. People I know from church and work back in Texas; family friends who have known me since I was born.

So much love, pouring through the electronic connections that bind us all together, however tenuously. I complain about social media as much as the next person, how it can devolve into banal oversharing or political shouting. But after a tragedy like this one, it’s where the huddle happens.

Let me say again: J and I are fine, and so far, so is everyone I know, though we will all be working through the shock and sadness for a while. And let me also say: thank you. Thank you for checking in on us; thank you for praying; thank you for caring. We are so grateful, and we love you back.

Take care.

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ten years

Ten years ago I was a high school senior, expecting just another Tuesday morning full of flute music and Spanish vocabulary words and quips exchanged in the hallway with my friends.

Ten years ago I was four days away from turning 18, and I’ve always attached significance to the fact that my country and I, in a sense, lost our innocence at the same time.

Ten years ago I found out someone had attacked my country on my way to my second-period Spanish class, and I knew – in a way I have known few things in my life – that my world would never be the same.

Ten years ago I spent my school day, and part of my evening, watching news coverage, shocked and stunned, though I realized my grief was far less than the grief of New Yorkers, or residents of Washington, D.C., or anyone who lost someone in the attacks that day.

Ten years ago I watched my teachers and school counselors, their eyes full of worry and compassion, try to grasp what had happened so they could explain it to classrooms full of teenagers, who couldn’t quite grasp it either.

Ten years ago I went to Tuesday night Bible study (because I desperately wanted to be with my friends, and to do something “normal” after such an abnormal day), and sat in a darkened room next to my friend Adam, and held his hand as the worship band sang and we both prayed.

Ten years ago I decided to go ahead and have my 18th birthday party, because life is still precious and friends are still wonderful and birthdays, however marked and shadowed by national grief, are still worth celebrating.

Ten years ago this November, I traveled to D.C. as part of a student diplomacy organization, representing the U.S. at our annual mock conference, and received a tour of the Pentagon from an Air Force brigadier general. And I stood outside, near piles of rubble and yellow Caution tape, and looked at the twinkling Christmas tree someone had put on the roof, right next to the gap where the plane had hit. And I heard that general’s deep voice urging me – urging us all – to live.

And today I light a candle, and remember.

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Four years ago yesterday I lost a friend. Cheryl was my neighbour in Oxford in ’04, one of four girls who lived across from Joy and me in the ‘big room’ on our floor. They had wrestling matches, laughed a lot, did copious squealing and some homework, and got into a prank war with the boys next door (which included frozen underwear and finally a ‘peace dinner’). Cheryl had long, shiny dark hair and a laugh that would split your eardrums and make you smile at the same time. She had a ridiculous flowered muumuu that she wore around the house. She would sing the same line of a song over and over as she moved around the house, almost without realising it. She was loud and hilarious, and lovable.

For our end-of-semester talent show, Cheryl played a talk show host called Stacy Loveheart, who interviewed various people (all played by her roommate Andrea), from Peter Pan to President Bush. I think the most memorable question was put to ‘Peter’: ‘How far away is Never-Never-Land, and can I drive there?’

On August 14, 2004, in Mason, Texas, Cheryl lost control of her car and hit a tree. And our Oxford group changed forever, and so did my world. I was angry, sad, confused, and just cut up inside for months. (It didn’t help that her death kicked off a year of difficult stuff, including another death of someone I loved.) I didn’t understand. I was angry at God. I spent hours crying and praying and writing and trying to make sense of it all. I sat through the funeral almost too sad to cry, and then wept uncontrollably at her ACU memorial service a few weeks later.

Of course, since this happened in August, the Olympic Games were on – back in their original home of Greece, in Athens. I remember watching the gymnastics avidly, as I always do, and watching swimming and track and field, and attempting to pronounce Pieter van den Hoogenband’s name. As I’ve watched these Olympics, my mind has flashed back to those afternoons spent sitting with Julie in the House 9 living room, watching synchronized diving and swimming, and trying to learn how to hold this big grief that had ripped a hole in our hearts.

I still don’t have answers for Cheryl’s death. I’ll never know why it happened, and the world will never seem quite as safe as it did before. But somehow, the fact of her death – and the fact that she’s in heaven – is more all right than it used to be. And when I think of her now, I remember her laugh and her black fedora and her big, sparkling brown eyes. I remember someone who lightened my days and made me laugh. And I bet she’s still doing that for everyone she meets, up there in Never-Never-Land.

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I can’t do any better than the thoughtful post on Mike’s blog this morning and the dozens of comments left by his readers. So I won’t try. But I will say that I have spent much of today thinking about where I was five years ago. There are days that mark our lives, individually and nationally, and 9/11/01 was one of them.

We never have the news on at home in the morning, and I had listened to a CD instead of the radio as I drove to school early that morning for a flute lesson. By the time my lesson ended, we were 15 minutes into first-period marching band, and I think the director had already told everyone else what had happened before I made it to the field. The mood on the field was a little subdued, but I didn’t think anything of it as I ran out there and found my place. I didn’t hear of anything unusual until I was on my way to second period and ran into my friend Chance, a known jokester. When he said, “Did you hear? Somebody bombed the World Trade Center,” I thought he was kidding. He assured me he wasn’t, but I didn’t believe him until I made it up the stairs to my Spanish class and saw the news report on TV. Even Aaron Patino, who sat next to me and usually made jokes the entire period, couldn’t find anything funny in the smoke-filled footage they were showing over and over.

For the rest of that day, and the entire week, I walked around in a daze. Four periods a day, in every class but band and physics (where life went on almost as usual), we watched the news. New footage of the attacks, interviews with victims and bystanders, news analysis of any information the media could dig up, a national mourning service that Friday. My eyeballs felt as if they had been stretched from trying to take it all in. My student diplomacy class, a tightly knit group of 15 students shepherded by a wise English teacher, took the news the hardest. We were all aware enough of global issues to know that this was really serious. Closer to home, we were headed to D.C. in November for a national student diplomacy conference, and we were no longer sure we would get to go. (We did, actually – even touring the State Department and the Pentagon less than three months after the attacks.) My best friend Jon and I didn’t say much to one another, but we hurt deeply together, for that whole week and for months afterward.

September 15, 2001, was my 18th birthday, and my friends Julie and Adam also turned 18 that week. We had a hard time feeling like we could celebrate, like we were allowed to enjoy ourselves and our friends. But we cooked burgers at my house and then went to play miniature golf, and for a little while we were able to put aside the tragedy of that week and enjoy each other.

Gradually, it has become apparent that enjoying each other, enjoying life, is the real victory, the way to make sure that terror does not win. If we are brave enough to go on living and loving and fighting for good and for hope, we have defeated anyone who dares crash a plane into our bright September skies. I hope today made you remember how precious our lives are, and remember for a moment those who lost their lives and loved ones in 9/11. I hope you were sad for a moment, and that you maybe even cried a little bit. And then I hope you called someone and told them how much you loved them. And I hope you go on doing that tomorrow. I know I will.

*title from Alan Jackson’s 9/11 tribute song, “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning”

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Be near, O God

Be near, O God
Be near, O God of us
Your nearness is to us our good…
-Shane Barnard

There was a girl killed in Houston this weekend. A girl I didn’t know. But she’s close to the heart of at least one person I love. Please go to Mandy’s blog for the story about Ashton Glover, and a link to the story on her death. And then please pray. For Ashton’s family and her church and friends. For those who will sit and listen and weep with the grieving. Please pray that God will be near, and that they will know it.

Every time I hear stories like this, my heart goes right back to Cheryl, my friend who was killed in a car wreck in August 2004. Maybe that’s the way it always is…maybe every great grief takes you back to the first one for the rest of your life. Because I learned what grief is when Cheryl died. I gained just a little bit of empathy for families who lose children. Her death hurt, but it made my soul bigger. And in the months afterward I discovered that there is always hope. That makes me, somehow, able to share in the grief of the Glovers, this family I don’t know. And to pray that they will continue to hope. For “hope does not disappoint us…” And hope springs eternal…

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A year ago Sunday night I got one of those phone calls that change your life forever.

“Katie, this is Kayla. I need to let you know that some of the Highland youth had an accident on their way back from Winterfest. The van flipped over and one boy was killed. They’re taking some others to the hospital. People are gathering at the church to pray.”

I don’t know if she said those words exactly – the whole night is such a blur. I hung up the phone and rushed to Jeremiah’s house. After receiving more phone calls from friends and Highland members, we went to the church, where people were gathered – praying, shaking their heads, trying to comprehend. We tried to piece together the conflicting detail reports. One boy killed. Six teenagers and an adult, the driver of the van, seriously injured. Two released that night; several who were in the hospital for days or weeks. One, still one crutches a year later.

This past Sunday night I walked into the Highland auditorium with members of my Life Team, to take part in a grief and lament service. David Lang spoke a few words about the year of loss it’s been for many of us. Sarah Campbell, our youth minister, shared her thoughts from the days following the accident. Rob Cunningham talked about Brody Bourland’s funeral, and about the depth of honest faith he has seen played out in the lives of the Bourlands and others from this church.

On the stage, rows of candles had been set up – short votives and tea lights in small glasses, with one central large candle representing Christ. Anyone who had lost a loved one this past year was invited to come up and light a candle in their memory. Jeremiah leaned over and whispered, “If you go to light a candle, I want to go with you.”

So we joined the line of hundreds – literally – that streamed toward the stage, crying, hugging, praying as we went. I think I cried for a solid hour that night. The tears wouldn’t stop coming. They stem from a year of grief and pain and heartache.

I lit only one candle. But it stood for Cheryl, my friend who died a year ago August. And for Randen, my little cousin who died last March. And for Brody, whom I didn’t even know. And for all the other griefs and trials and soul-storms that pressed in on every side last year. I lit one candle, and then I turned and pressed my head into Jeremiah’s chest, and I cried.

I don’t know how long I stood there weeping (although, as his white shirt later showed, the tears were copious). Not ten feet away, four women were doing the same thing; people lined the area below the stage, praying and hugging and crying out together. Perhaps the most touching sight of all was the kids who had been in the wreck, including Jon Westin Bennett (still on crutches), in a knot on the stage next to the candles, supporting one another.

Then the ZOE version of “Blessed Be Your Name” came over the speakers. And one by one, through their tears, people began to sing. By the end of the first verse I think everyone was singing, even those of us who were still crying. And by the first chorus we were all singing with all we had. “Blessed be the Name of the Lord; blessed be Your Name. Blessed be the Name of the Lord; blessed be Your glorious Name.”

I choked up and had to wipe away tears as we sang the second verse, and my voice cracked on the bridge (“You give and take away; You give and take away/My heart will choose to say, Lord, blessed be Your Name”). But I still sang my heart out. We all did – because we had to. When life comes down to its worst, when terror and grief and pain rain down, there is no one else to go to but the Lord. He has the words of eternal life. There is no other name under heaven by which we can – and must – be saved.

I will sing that song today in the opening chapel of my last semester at ACU, on a praise team of dear friends, to a coliseum full of dear friends. And I hope that whatever happens this semester and the rest of my life, I will be able to sing these words:

Every blessing You pour out I’ll turn back to praise
And when the darkness closes in, Lord, still I will say
Blessed be the Name of the Lord – Blessed be Your Name
Blessed be the Name of the Lord – Blessed be Your glorious Name


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Today was one of those days in chapel where “you bleed just to know you’re alive.” The pastor at the University Baptist Church in Waco was electrocuted when adjusting a microphone before a baptism, and he died shortly afterward. Brandon Woodruff is still in jail, awaiting trial, I suppose. And Jeanene Reese talked to us about confessing sins and being able to be real. Pain is so amazingly inherent in the human condition. Even in the good times, we can’t escape.

That sounds like a hopeless statement…yet it’s not, really. Pain, as confusing and messy and heartrending as it is, brings us closer together, reminds us that we’re all human, that none of us are in this alone. The pain of losing Cheryl last year bound my Oxford family so much closer together. My best friends are the ones who have not only picnicked in the sunshine, but trudged through the valleys with me. And pain doesn’t have to mean the story’s over. As one who has spent a lot of time in the valley over the past year, I know the valley doesn’t always hold the words “The End.”

I believe in the rest of the story
I believe there’s still ink in the pen
I have wasted my very last day
Trying to change what happened way back when

I believe in the human condition
We all need to have answers to why
More than ever, I’m ready to say that I
Will still sleep peacefully
With answers out of reach from me until…

Someday all that’s crazy, all that’s unexplained
Will fall into place
And someday all that’s hazy through a clouded glass
Will be clear at last
And sometimes we’re just waiting
For someday
~”Someday,” Nichole Nordeman

Someday we’ll be home for real, forever…and someday all those prophesies about heaven will come true, in ways we never imagined. Jesus came to offer us life both then and now – of that I have no doubt. Abundant life doesn’t begin after we die. But when this life wears thin and the days grow dark, it helps to cling to the distant – but bright – promise of someday.

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