I’ve seen it before in the midst of unfathomable loss and pain. When the sky above Manhattan filled with smoke and the streets were left weeping covered in ash, something incredible happened. That unnecessary and senseless tragedy left a deep scar in our hearts and in the earth where loved ones once stood. Those of us who are old enough to remember that day can tell you exactly where we were, what we were wearing, who we were with (if anyone) and what we did in the immediate aftermath of that tragic day.
I left home the year prior to 9/11 and was living with my friend Jarrod. I was still asleep when the first plane struck. Jarrod woke me up knocking loudly on the bedroom door. I jumped out of bed panicked as he entered the room. He had tears in his eyes and said “our nation is under attack!” I did not understand, “what was he talking about?” We spent the next few hours glued to the television set gasping and wiping tears.
Later that afternoon I went to see my mom. I hadn’t been by to see her much since leaving home because I was angry for reasons I won’t get into. At a time in my life when I wanted to put as much distance between myself and the past as I could, I couldn’t think of any other place I wanted to be. I needed to see my mom and hug her tight and tell her that I loved her. The things that happened prior to that moment didn’t seem to matter anymore.
I am sure many of the individuals who went to work that morning or just happened to get caught in the crossfire woke up with similar worries or stress prior to that moment, baggage that no longer carried the same weight after the sirens rang out. Firefighters grabbed their gear and charged courageously and selflessly into those burning buildings as others tried to escape. Those men and women knowingly sacrificed their own lives while trying to trying to save someone else’s. They are the reason someone else’s mom, dad, brother, sister, son, daughter… made it home.
Police officers suited up on their days off and headed to ground zero. Strangers embraced one another in the streets and desperately tried to reconnect with safety and lost loved ones. Men and women across the nation loaded volunteer service dogs, water, blankets, food, medical supplies, tents, machinery etc. into their vehicles and headed to Manhattan to extend a helping hand. Why? Because love is far greater than hate. Even in the depths of the charred and broken ground, growth happened.
While my problems pale in comparison to the tragic events of that day I do know what it feels like to be blindsided. You feel like you will never be able to breathe again, or feel joy, happiness, love, wholeness or belonging. You stay up at night replaying every single moment prior to that event wondering what you missed, what you could have done differently. What if I had turned left/right, drank less, had more strength, payed closer attention and questioned more… maybe it wouldn’t have happened.
This weekend I traveled to San Francisco to participate in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk. I had the honor of walking all night with a tribe of souls who get it. Souls who have found themselves standing at ground zero forever changed by devastation, yet there they were like the fresh new life emerging out of the charred soil in the redwood forest. Giant trees towered nearby scarred and mangled into blackened ash, but even there… growth happened.
We walked approximately eighteen miles through the hilly streets of San Francisco Saturday night. One gentlemen even wore high heels. Of course we would give anything to have our loved ones back but through our heartache we found new friendships and opportunities to hopefully save others, we were able to listen to someone else’s story and share our own well into the night, offer and receive hugs and laugh (yes laugh) until we cried. We walked together, not alone, through the darkness and we kept going until we found the light. Growth happened.
As I continue to walk through my own struggles and life altering blows I try to hang on to those examples. I am grateful for the moments when I can see it, feel it and believe it. I felt it a few days ago when I received an unexpected invitation to the botanical gardens from a friend. All I really wanted to do was stay in bed and forget my new reality but I didn’t. “Remember, fingers in the dirt is a good thing!” How true that statement was. The day was filled with laughter, wisdom, earthworms, koi fish, curious turtles and memorable landmarks. I could clearly see life and growth happening all around me. Before we left we stumbled upon a plaque that read “growing things”. (Smiles) Coincidence, I think not.