Safe – not a given, a promise or a guarantee.
If I were to ask you where you were on November 22, 1963, what would you say? Would you realize this as one of those significant dates in history or think not? I envision myself safe in my mother’s arms as she shielded me from the reality that engrossed her through the airwaves. The words “Mr. Kennedy has been assassinated in Dallas.” reminded America of the frailty of life. How could this happen? How could a terrorist bullet destroy America’s Camelot? Nightmare becomes reality.
Although I have no real cognitive memories of that date, I do remember the same emotions running through my heart, soul and mind on 9/11. I had just dropped my three children, Daniel, Beth, and Christy, grades (5th, 3rd and Kindergarten) off at school before going to my doctor for a Pre-Op visit. A cornea transplant awaited me next week in Dallas. In the waiting room, I glanced occasionally at the small TV screen setting behind the check-in desk. I stared at the silent images of an airplane plunging into the skyscraper. At first, I didn’t think much about it; I assumed it was a 70’s disaster movie. My misconceptions shattered when an elderly man came in shouting, “Terrorist hijacked a plane – and it crashed into the World Trade Center!” Reality slammed me in the gut. My first instinct – run out of there as fast as I could and straight for the school. I already knew Daniel and Beth’s thoughts, especially Beth: “You lied to us; you said school would be safe and that nothing bad was going to happen again.”
Safe was not a given, a promise or a guarantee in their world.
Almost two years before, my children experienced death and its drama for the first time when their Gran-Gran, my husband’s dad, passed away after his battle with a rare, debilitating illness. They beheld mountains of food, an impenetrable wall of people, and rivers of tears. The resiliency of children, mixed with lots of love, support, as well as a return to normal activities helped my children survive. Normal also included a return to school – which we conducted around our kitchen table. We had chosen this form of education solely because of Daniel’s unquenchable thirst for knowledge with all intentions of temporary driving the decisions, the lessons continued because of convenience, and consistency. Someday, my children would attend either public or private school, but, the time wasn’t quite right. We had moved to the country and I believed that the quality of instruction was not quite up to snuff. My children never experienced isolation or felt needlessly sheltered. Extracurricular activities abounded and extensive family relationships filled this void. For the moment – everything worked. Every Spring, I began the decision process of whether or not I would continue teaching them in the Fall or enroll them in school somewhere. Enrolling them in a school looked appealing. However, I know that no matter how much I plan, God plans tend to supercede my plans. On Saturday, April 24th, 1999 (just six months after their granddad died), a phone call determined my course of action for the coming year as tragedy once again invaded our safe haven. Three more family members died needlessly. This time my husband Kent lost his younger brother Jeff and his wife Jimmie and their 1 yrs old daughter Jordan in a head-on collision with a semi on their return trip home from vacation. Ironically, our last night with them focused on the appalling events at Columbine. While the adults discussed the ramifications portrayed, in the background, we heard the peals of laughter from our children playing. Beth and Christy taught Jordan “Ring Around the Rosie”, and Jordan delighted in falling down, over and over, over. As hard as I try, I cannot adequately put into words the effect their deaths had on my children. Words like devastating, gut wrenching, horrifying, pointlessness, overwhelming come to mind. However, Beth added a new word to the list – purpose. The word was presented in her running question regarding purpose. Beth has to have a purpose define in life. She raised her question during bedtime prayers,”Mommy, what was the purpose for Uncle Jeff, Gigi and Jordan dying?” How could her Dad and I explain the “purpose” for this – we didn’t even totally comprehend it ourselves. Our only answer to her – “Trust God to work things out.” At the time it felt really lame.
Safe – not a promise, given or a guarantee, but peace is a promise.
That peace propelled our family through the next myriad of events and decisions (new job, blindness, new house, new neighborhood, and new perspective) we would face head-on the upcoming year. As parents, we want our children to feel loved, protected, safe, and as one commercial portrayed, wrapping your child in bubble wrap isn’t very realistic. Living in a castle surrounded by a moat of crocodiles doesn’t fit the mold of feasibility either. No – with this fresh perspective in life, we knew the time had come to let our three butterflies into world because that is where their light would shine the best. I remember the feeling of absolute peace and assurance the day we visited the elementary school down the street from our new home. The principal graciously answered all of our questions and concerns regarding the possibility of enrolling the kids there for the Fall. Yet, I knew that I knew – you know that gut feeling that you just know something is the right thing? Not a doubt left shadows in my mind. However, the night before the first day of school, I almost questioned the decision because Beth asked another the potentially, unanswerable question. “Mommy, will we be safe at school? Is it really going to be ok??” “Yes” I replied, hoping she couldn’t hear the apprehension in my voice. “It will be ok.” With her amazing, piercing green eyes fixed on mine, she pressed, “Are you telling me the truth Mommy or just saying that?” Busted. I pulled her into my lap and as honestly as I could tell her “Bethy-I feel good about this and I know that even though Daddy and I are not there – God has angels all around you and the school. You may not actually see them, but I know they are with you. Do you believe me? “After a moment of silence, her face and body relaxed. “Okay” she said as she made a mad dash out the door to play. I tried to believe what I told her too. “Yes – this is the right thing. And they will be ok” I thought. I actually believed it right up until I saw their deer in the headlight expressions pasted on their anxious faces that next morning. Yet, I could not ignore calm assurance that kept me going. At the sound of the dismissal bell, all of our fears melted away like a Panhandle snow as their radiant faces greeted their dad and I.
Safe-not a guarantee.
9/11 would have affected our world regardless of where my children received their formal education. I resisted the compelling drive to “rescue” my children from the school that day. My instinct was right in doing so, because their new world did remain calm and peaceful in the midst of sorrow and chaos. Administration chose not to disclose the events of the day and kept to business as usual. I believe the words of encouragement I shared with Beth a few weeks before proved correct. I believe angels, of flesh of bone and of unknown essence did surround my children that day. Now – eleven years later – I am about to send Beth off to college – 9 hours away to College Station, Texas, where another senseless tragedy occurred just off campus a few days ago. Do I still believe my children will be safe? I do believe they are in the palm of their heavenly Father’s hand and I trust His sovereignty. Today, I am also on the other side of the classroom as a teacher where I too try to provide that calm, peaceful atmosphere in the midst of whatever storms my students face because –Safe -not a given, a promise or a guarantee in our world