Sunday, September 11, 2016

Remembering 9/11 - 15 Years Later

[Editor's note: this post originally appeared here at Destination: Austin Family on September 11, 2008]

On the morning of September 11th, 2001, I was living in San Francisco out near Ocean Beach in a small one bedroom apartment where I had lived since 1993. It was a Tuesday and since I usually got up at 4:00 am to walk the dog and then catch a bus at 5:00 am to go to the gym, I'm not sure why I slept later than usual. All I remember is the phone ringing slightly before 6:00 am Pacific Daylight Time.

My first thought went to, "Why did I oversleep?" which was quickly replaced with, "Something is wrong." My phone just didn't ring at 6:00 am unless it was my mother in New York.

For years, Mom could never get the time zone thing right and I was used to receiving calls anywhere from 4:00 am onward. And after her early on-set dementia diagnosis in the summer of 2000, phone calls at odd hours of the day and night became commonplace.

As I said hello I could tell that my mother was flustered. First, she was at home and not working which concerned me. Second, despite suffering from memory loss, she had the wits enough to simply say "Turn on the television - something is wrong with the World Trade Center in The City." Having grown up only 90 miles northwest of Manhattan, we always called it The City.

Mom said "Call me back," and I quickly hung up and ran to the television. I was still half awake and was not understanding what was going on. I do remember Katie Couric's voice, or some other female voice, stating that there was something wrong with air traffic control perhaps since a large airliner had just hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center. It was only after having watched the second plane hit the other tower, live as it happened, did the announcer and I both know that this was no accident.

I sat mesmerized for the next 30 minutes before I put on some sweats and took the dog out for a short walk. My next task was to call George at his home in Oakland.

George and I had been dating for about 16 months and had not yet decided to move into an apartment together. He had been home sick the day before with a severe sinus infection, so I knew he'd be sleeping. And I also hesitated to call since he wasn't known to be entirely coherent in the mornings. But due to the nature of the events, I dialed the phone. As he answered I tried to explain what was going on, and realized I should have followed Mom's example and kept it simple. There are times when Mom really does know best. Finally, exasperated, I simply said what so many loved ones probably said that morning, "Turn on the television," and I hung up.

The rest of the morning is somewhat of a blur. I do remember calling my boss who lived in the East Bay and basically told him that I would not be coming into the office. He agreed that from a safety perspective, and what with working downtown in San Francisco's financial district amid large skyscrapers casting permanent shadows along Montgomery Street, being in an office was not the best place to be.

As I sat on the computer reading the news stories about the attack, the phone rang again. It was Mom and I could just feel the sense of confusion in her voice. I thought about what it must be like for someone who did not have all their mental faculties to witness such events and how they could possibly process them.

Did she think she was watching a movie? She probably wasn't the only one who thought that - many of us did as we first turned on the television. Then as I watched the first tower collapse, I said to Mom, "the building is falling." At which point she started crying and told me she loved me and that I should try to get out of the building if I could. I had to explain over the next 10 minutes that it was the building in New York collapsing, not my own apartment building.

Oh, if all the confusion and panic of those events had been so easy to explain in only 10 minutes that day. I do remember, as others have described, the "eeriness" of the streets, the buildings, the towns - big and small - and how things just didn't seem right. There was less traffic on the streets, there wasn't the usual small talk at the grocery store or the dry cleaner, if one could even think about seeking refuge in the mundane world of daily errands.

There was no air traffic. Planes were not crossing over from the Pacific Ocean only 10 blocks away to land at San Francisco International Airport. And for the next few weeks, once air flights resumed, their usual engine sounds which were usually ignored, seemed amplified at least three times by having witnessed those horrible events, that sad history.

And life did not resume quickly for me or for many others. Dinners out seemed like an extravagance, an indulgence despite the advice of television psychiatrists and counselors about the "need to take care of oneself." Music was not played loudly, jokes were not raucously repeated, kids did not run after each other during recess at St. Thomas' Catholic School across the street. In those few short hours which stretched out along my mental and emotional landscape for what seemed like months, the world had changed and would never be the same.

I had changed and would never be the same. Mom was going through her own personal terrorist attack, with daily pummelings to her mental capacity and her psyche. Before September 11, 2001, I already knew that she would never be the same. I was just hoping that the world around her would be and that I could still protect her from it, as much as an oldest son 3,000 miles away could do.

In those years since, time has passed quickly but not so quickly that I can't pause and take time to remember what was, what could have been and what may be because of those attacks. And as I remember I will do so as I hold my loved ones a bit tighter tonite, cherish the memory more fervently of those no longer with me, and pray not as silently as usual that we all appreciate what we have when we have it, thank those who protect us when we need it, and love those who love us despite the madness of the world around us.

 Photo: Rescue workers conduct search and rescue attempts, descending deep into the rubble of the World Trade Center. September 14, 2001. Source: U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Jim Watson. Public domain.

© 2016, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

December 24 - Advent Devotional 2015

Thursday, 25 December 2015

Stories simply written can teach many lessons. "The Story of the Other Wise Man" by Henry Van Dyke proves this point clearly. The story is simply this. A well educated astronomer and physician by the name of Artaban has planned to join his colleagues, the three wise men, to go in search of Jesus Christ, the new born king of the Jews. Artaban starts off to meet Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar. He brings with him three gifts: a sapphire, a ruby and a pearl. His colleagues are bringing the Christ Child gold, frankincense and myrrh. Artaban was to meet the three wise men in ten days. He never meets them. The wise men saw Christ in Bethlehem. Artaban never sees the child. Artaban fails to meet the three wise men and Christ because along the way he is delayed.

Why didn't he meet the wise men at the appointed time? He met a man along the way who was sick and dying. Artaban ministered to him, took care of him and restored him to life. But in doing so he missed the three wise men who had to leave without him. And so the search for the person of Christ was something Artaban had to do on his own. He gives the sapphire to a small caravan to help them go across the desert. He takes counsel from a scholarly Jewish Rabbi who tells him that the new born king is not to be found in a palace, nor among the rich and powerful. His kingdom is a new kingdom, the royalty of perfect and unconquerable love. Artaban followed the counsel of the Rabbi and though, as Van Dyke says, he found more to worship, he found many to help. He fed the hungry, he clothed the naked and healed the sick and comforted the captive. His ruby was given to a soldier to protect a small child from being slaughtered. His last gift, the pearl, was given to prevent a young woman from being taken into slavery.

The quest for Christ continues for some 33 years. One day, at Passover, people were talking about a crucifixion that was taking place. The earth started to quake. The sky darkened. Artaban and the young woman he had given the pearl to sought shelter. A heavy tile struck Artaban on the head. He was badly injured. Then Artaban, with blood all over his face, seemed to be whispering and saying, "not so, My Lord, for when did I see you hungry, or thirsty and gave thee to drink? When did I see a stranger and take thee in? For 33 years I have looked for you and never saw your face." And the voice that prompted all the words of Artaban became more clear and strong and said, "as often as you did it to one of these, my brethren, you did it to me."

There is no doubt that the other wise men found the king. But Artaban also found him in his own way. There is no doubt in reading this Christmas story that the author was telling us that there are so many Christ-like people in our own life that have to be ministered to.

The journey of Artaban to see Christ is a reminder that Christ, in the person of the homeless or the forgotten elderly, is in our midst. Van Dyke has told us that the most beautiful words that we can hear are the words "as long as you did it to them, you did it for me."

May all of us experience and hear these words as we journey to find Christ.

Source: Spirituality for Today, December, 1995, Volume 1, Number 5
Photo: Artaban, The Fourth Wise Man

View all Advent Devotional 2015 posts here.

© 2015, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

December 23 - Advent Devotional 2015

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

There's a company that makes t-shirts with spiritual themes. One of them shows an airplane being flown by a frantic pilot. The shirt says, "If God is your co-pilot, switch seats."

That's a state that's simple, but sort of sums up our struggle. We often talk about how faith is hard. But a certain amount of faith is really not difficult at all. The Gallup Organization conducted a survey that consistently reports that about 94 percent of Americans believe in God. Making God your co-pilot is not easy.  Like this:

God, you keep an eye on the horizon and the dials and gauges which I fly the plane. But you be ready in case a storm comes up or we lose an engine or the wing falls off, because I'm gonna need you to save the day. Of course, when we have blue skies, I'll just take over again.

That's not hard. What's hard is to relinquish the wheel. At the Annunciation, Mary gives us the blueprint for a different kind of faith - the hard kind.

Mary may have had many ideas and expectations about what her life would be like. We all do. We knew she was expecting to marry Joseph. And then this angel shows up with a message from God that lays out a whole different plan for her future. To say this was going to complicate her life is putting it lightly. While Scripture talked a lot about the coming of the Messiah, it didn't include instructions for being the Messiah's mom. Mary is the ultimate example of a life yielded to God's purpose. Mary puts God in the driver's seat. But how do we live out faith today, and walk in submission of God? The answer begins in Mary's story, an act of grace that has the power to transform our lives. We need to remember that Jesus didn't come just to accept the shepherds' worship or the Magi's gifts. We need to see the cross as well as the manger.

Christ said to Martha in John 11: "I am the resurrection and the life. You who believe in me will live even though you die, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" We all want to surrender our lives, to let go and let God, to turn over the wheel. It is in answering Christ's question that we find the confidence to do this.

There are times when we wonder whether we matter to God, whether God really knows who we are, or cares. God responds to our doubt and our feelings of inadequacy by saying this: "Come live with me at my house. I have prepared a place for you! It's a great house, too. And I'm not talking a two-week lease - it's forever! And, not only that, you can invite all your friends, too!"

Believe it. Switch seats. Follow Mary's example, and make God the pilot in your life. Let go of the wheel, and grab hold of Christmas with all your strength.

Source: REMinistries, the Internet outreach of Rich Miller of Lawrenceville, New Jersey
Photo: Airport Delay a Gift From God

View all Advent Devotional 2015 posts here.

© 2015, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.