On September 11th there seems to be some pressure to offer a weighty and profound reflections on what happened to our country 8 years ago. I’m afraid I don’t have much profundity to offer. I don’t know what this means for American history and American culture, for victims and survivors. However, today as I read and listened to the memories of friends and colleagues regarding where they were, how they found out, and what they did immediately afterward, I couldn’t help but think about those (blessedly few) moments in my life when everything changed suddenly and unexpectedly, and I was left living with a new normal.
It always annoys me when people tell me they won’t go to certain parts of the city (invariably those populated by minorities) because “people get killed there”, or imply that I shouldn’t live where I do because it’s not safe. People get killed everywhere, and we are never safe. Life has a mind of its own, and things come at us no matter what we have done to move toward the life we had planned. Marvelously, we adapt to our new normal, surviving what we think we could never endure.
My mother loves the couplet “God gave Noah the rainbow sign/no more water, fire next time”. We don’t ever know what’s coming. No gasmasks or triple locks or aloof attitudes keep us safe from the surprises of life. Don’t bother praying that you won’t break, because some blows break us no matter how strong we are. The grace is in the recovery, in the healing after the breaking. Maybe the best we can do is fortify our lives in a way that allows for the recovery: Get to know God in a way that helps us find holiness in the dark, surround ourselves with good people, know ourselves well enough to adjust ourselves to our new normal, be brave enough to ask for what we need.
There’s no way to predict the “fire next time”, but we can strengthen ourselves to survive the burning.