“…your place in the family of things.”

It had not been my intention to pick up a theme on this blog as I move toward the end of 2011, but it appears that the breezes of fall have drawn me to a place called “belonging”. The week has been complicated with politics and passion. There is a surge in this country–a surge of energy calling for action from a new type of community. The question is once again being asked, “who is my neighbor? and what I give up in order to make life better for someone else?”

It’s been a long time since such a large group of people discussed the concerns of the greater good. Our society has forged itself into the 21st century with one banner– “It’s all about ME.” People have stood defiantly alone with their “rights” – the ‘right’ to make profit, the right to claim privilege, the right to leave families unsupported as homes are repossessed and jobs drastically cut. This focus on self has thrown us dangerously off-balance. The OCCUPY Movement has highlighted the selfish stance which has so deeply affected this country – the whole world. The people gathering all over the country are meeting one another, again, for the first time. Stories are being shared and heard. Community has been created in this forum, a community energized to reclaim balance and move forward with a renewed sense of truth.

There is no one-way. Finding balance will not be neat and clean. At the core, this is about ‘being known’ – belonging to something larger than self. This is a time for people to find their place in the greater family and, with all sincere imperfection, contribute to the balance we so passionately seek.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clear blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver

…where were you?

…where were you?

It is an anniversary–10 years ago today, September 11, our sense of peace and security was shaken to its core. There are few in this country and world that do not remember where they were on that Tuesday morning. Almost anyone asked, could tell a story of how the horrors and uncertainties of that day affected them personally.

I can picture exactly where I was as news began to report the attacks in New York and the Pentagon. Working as a chaplain in a large teaching hospital, I remained on high alert, prepared to respond to unspeakable traumas every day. The morning routine had been normal — it was time for a cup of coffee, after making first rounds in my assigned units. Sitting with another staff chaplain, we begin to notice small clusters of people gathering to talk about airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center in Manhattan. Nowhere in my wildest imagination would I have considered what was to come.

…where were you?

So many people can tell a story of how his or her lives were changed that day. The natural response was to contact love ones – to hear their voices or see their faces. On that morning we, myself, my brother and sister, anticipated the return of our parents from a two-week holiday in Paris, France. Their flight was to land in Newark, New Jersey sometime mid morning. In the blink of an eye their return became of grave concern. No one knew where these lethal planes had originated and waiting for that news would seem a lifetime. I immediately wanted to contact my brother and sister. What could we do? How could we find our parents in the midst of such chaos? Mom and Dad had been with my aunt, dad’s sister, and her husband who were still in Paris. I called my uncle’s office, spoke to his secretary and gave her information on how to contact me when/if she received news from my uncle. I then called my brother, who lived near Washington DC, a chaplain at a private preparatory school. My sister-in-law answered their phone from the floor of her basement with small children near. The next exit from their house was the Pentagon. They had felt the ground shake as the plane crashed into the Pentagon’s walls. The noise of rescue vehicles and helicopters filled their yard and home. Okay–now there was a concern for parents flying into the New York area and for my brother’s family so very close to another attack. A call to my sister brought comfort; she and her family were safe, alert and aware.

It was not long before we all knew that the planes used for these horrific acts were domestic. They had left American cities on course to wreak havoc on other American cities. Such acts were un-thinkable. Who could do these things? As the day unfolded news began to report that these actions were planned in middle-eastern countries far away – by people known as terrorists (a term that would become all too familiar in the days and years to follow). Even hearing these details, the question remained — where were the international flights – my mother and father? It was late morning before my pager alerted me to a call from my uncle’s office. News of my parent’s location! There would be no landing on America soil, that day or many days to follow. They were on route to a large landing strip, an Air Force military base in Gander Newfoundland, where they would land and remain for over 3 days, while waiting for clearance. Since that time a book has been written about this small town’s big heart as they hosted and cared for these foreign flights.


…where were you?

At a table in front of a hospital television, I remember returning calls to my brother and sister. There would still be much to do to build the bridge needed for us to be in contact with our parents. For now we could give thanks for their safety.

That afternoon, just like the day began, I sat with the same chaplain sharing coffee and reflecting on all we had heard and experienced since that morning. Feeling somewhat helpless, we tried to think of who might need our prayers and support. We soon found ourselves in the office of a professor at the school of medicine. He was Muslim. Nowhere in our wildest imaginations did we see this moment in time. Though we were quiet, we shared prayers of gratitude and peace.

…where were you?

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