Wednesday, September 11, 2013

In Re: 9-11... Do This In Rememberance

It is a strange accident of the English language that words with completely different origins can form connections as they are blended into the rainbow of our dictionary. So it is with remember -  from the Latin rememor: to bring back to mind -  and dismember - from the Latin desmembre: to separate the parts.

Because of their similar sound in modern English, the two words are connected in a way that seems especially meaningful today.

To dismember is to tear apart, to divide, to reduce. To be dismembered is to find yourself disconnected and disjointed. So much of what was true about you yesterday is no longer true today. You can no longer do things the way you used to do them. It is often violent, brutal, and cruel. It is always catastrophic. The one who is dismembered is changed forever.

In this vein, the word remember suggests a restoration of what is lost. Reconnection. Reconcilliation. Redemption. True, the literal meaning of the word remember is about calling something back to your mind or a return to mindfulness, but by virtue of the connection that English provides, the word is much richer than that. It is much more than a mental or emotional exercise. To remember is to take on the difficult task of rebuilding what has been destroyed.

On this terrible day of remembrance, we fly our flags, keep or moments of silence, say our prayers, and change our Facebook profile pictures, promising to never forget. But that is only the first step in remembrance. The question we must answer is this: now that we are once again holding that day in our memory, what are we going to do to respond, restore, and return to a way of life that honors the best parts of our nature that were revealed in the smoke of that dreadful morning?

Revenge? Retribution? Retaliation? These too are distant cousins of remembrance. But revenge often proves to be a cold and unsatisfying meal. The punishment of our enemies can never restore what we have lost.

Only remembrance can do that.

Not in a literal sense. Nothing we can do will make it September 10th again. The broken bodies and sense of safety of that long ago yesterday will never return. Nothing will ever give meaning to the deaths in New York and Washington and Shanksville. But we can restore ourselves. We can reveal our best nature, not our worst. We can imitate those courageous First Responders by showing up at the pile with courage and strength and love: forces more powerful and more noble than fear and rage.

I believe the scripture that teaches us we were made in the image of our Creator. We are creatures of light, imitations of the Love of God. The people who did the murders of September 11 were angry and frightened. They saw their world in danger and lashed out with hatred and violence. Not long after, many in my country did the same thing. The corridors of Hell roar with laughter when the children of God use the tools of Satan against one another. Hundreds of thousands of families, children, parents, lovers, have been separated, wounded, tortured, killed all over the world in the wake of September 11.

Humankind. Dismembered.

On this anniversary of horror and fear, may God grant us the courage to truly reconsider... the strength to do the work of responders... the compassion to restore what can be restored... that we might one day know the joy of redemption: a world once sold to fear, bought back with love.

Never forget? No never.

But more importantly, with God's help, we will always remember.


Thursday, September 05, 2013

The Voyage of the Pennsy: Morning Prayers

As the crew gathered for morning prayers today, we were reminded of who our true Captain is. We have shared many adventures together, and survived many storms that would have ruined ships with stouter timbers and richer cargo. We endure because we are blessed. We sail with confidence because our God has proven to be faithful. The most experienced pilot can never know what lies beyond the horizon, but we hold our course with courage, knowing that our Heavenly Master holds us, even in the gravest danger. Looking back, we can se how our greatest trials gave us wisdom and confidence to face even greater ones. We have known great fear, but even greater joy. Our most bitter losses have always been our teachers, preparing us for unforeseen blessings. We have suffered, yes. But we have never suffered alone. Our current trials are dire, ant the seas toward which we sail hold dangers and obstacles we can only imagine. There is much work to do, and precious little room for error. I would be a liar if I said that I feel no fear. But in my heart, I also know the strength that comes from love. It fills the Pennsy's sails as. Surely as the gentle breeze in the golden sunrise. Everything we have done... Every storm... Every battle... Every loss and every blessing has prepared us for the weeks to come. 

We seek to love and serve ourselves, our neighbors, and our faithful God, wherever the journey may lead us. And God has blessed us with loving friends and hopeful, grateful hearts. 

The good ship Pennsy sails on... But she never sails alone.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

The Voyage of the Pennsy: Crisis Averted

The Worst Did Not Happen
The crew awoke this morning to unpleasant news from engineering. The ship's computer failed to power up. There was a moment of despair when I considered the consequences of trying to continue our voyage without a reliable command center, but then I recalled a similar situation many years ago when I was "the I.T. guy" in a small company. I had been given that title by virtue of the fact that I was the only one in the office who knew how email worked.... by default, I became the computer expert. Upon discovering that one of the engineer's computers would not power up, I made some desperate phone calls, and the consensus among my counselors was that the power supply had failed. Whatever that was. I made a trip to our neighborhood computer parts store and purchased a mysterious box with a Gordian bundle of wires sticking out the back. By some sort of divine intervention, I was able to remove the old part and replace it with the new one without blowing the device to smithereens.

I never expected to use that knowledge again. I'm glad it was back there in my memory. My fears of life without a computer - or life paying back whoever would lend me enough money to buy a new one - were not realized. I was able to procure and replace the power supply in my Dell with minimal expense, and we were soon back under sail.

The afternoon brought clear skies and exercises on deck, followed by a short training run. The crew performed admirably, and enjoyed a hearty supper of coffee and beans. In spite of the menu, I expect there'll be no trouble sleeping tonight on the good ship Pennsy.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

The Voyage of The Pennsy: We Set Sail

Beautiful light this morning as we prepare to leave port. I hear calm seas and gentle winds through my cabin window. Supplies have been loaded and the good ship Pennsy is prepared for whatever may befall her on our journey.

Where are we bound? A new world: that is as much of an answer as I know. What adventures await us? Our ship is strengthened by the scars of dangerous seas and brutal battles past. Our crew is seasoned, brave, and full of optimism.  I have every confidence in our ability to overcome whatever obstacles come our way.

I am grateful for the golden sunshine that lights our path this morning. It gives me a sense of hope. We sail into the unknown, but we do not sail alone. God seems to be smiling on us today. We are blessed.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

To Be a Light, Not A Shadow

A New Voyage
Here are the money quotes from one of the all-time good news/bad news letters I've ever received.
After reviewing all of the information carefully, we have decided that your health has improved since we last reviewed your case and you are now able to work... We realize that your condition prevents you from doing any of your past work, but it does not prevent you from doing work which is less demanding... You are no longer disabled... your last payment will be for 10/2013.
Well, then. Here's a new adventure for Pennsy. Thanks to my Social Security Disability Insurance, I was able to continue to have an income throughout my recovery from cancer. I have been able to devote myself and my energy to learning a new profession, and to building my body far beyond the strength and endurance I ever knew as a young man. During my recent mental health crisis and separation from my wife, SSDI has been the only thing keeping me off of the charity roles. I would have had no medical insurance this summer without it. I am grateful. But in a few weeks, that part of my life will come to an end.

The good news: As of today, I am officially no longer "Disabled." Many people never live to say that. My doctors report that I am strong enough to return to full time work. I've been to enough funerals this year to know how lucky I am to hear those words, too. I have the opportunity to begin a new voyage, and I have two months grace to get under weigh.

The bad news: I have yet to prove that I can actually work a full time job without physical or mental collapse. And I have 8 weeks to convince somebody (and myself) that I can be a productive and valuable employee who is worth at least the money I've been getting from SSDI for the past three years. The people who know me best, know only too well how very far and hard I can fall.

My initial response to the news was powerful and violent. Was this the last straw? Had life finally broken my heart? Was it time to give in and let the depression win? I though long and hard about what would happen to me when there was no more money. As it has done so many times before, my depression whispered "suicide" in my ear. For a while, it seemed like the best solution; the only solution; but the thought of Mrs P discovering me after days of silence and the phone call she would have to make to my mother changed my mind. They don't deserve that. Both have fought too hard and for too many years to keep me alive through both cancer and mental illness. And I thought of the kids at the Y. The kids I run with. the people in the classes I teach. Who would have to explain to them that Mr. Bob had done such a thing? What about the people who believed in me at the Y when any other employer would have been glad to be rid of me? I thought of the Strong Eight: the women who fought cancer beside me as we laid the foundation for the LIVESTRONG at the YMCA program together, two summers ago. We trusted one another with our hearts. How could I do this thing that would almost certainly break theirs?

And if there were enough people in my life who cared that much... people who mattered that much to me... surely there was a reason for me to keep on fighting for my life.

You know who you are. I woke up Saturday morning because of your love. It's as simple as that.

Yesterday, on Facebook, after a long, long sleep, I posted "I finally have the will. Lord, show me the way." And that is my prayer. God made me wait a long time, but I at last have a reason to live. I will be a light in this world, not a shadow. I don't know how I'll be making money on November 1. But I know what I'll be doing.

Somehow, somewhere, I'll be helping people to fight for their lives, as I must do, as we all must. "The ones who give up... they all die," the doctor said. Physiology and personal loss be damned. I'm not giving up on my people... or on myself.

I'm going to work. That's my next voyage.