For Those Who Can Never Forget

Sep 11, 2014

Mija Quigley of Princeton Junction, NJ embraces the name of her son Patrick Quigley who died aboard Flight 175 on September 11, 2001. She is at at the 9/11 Memorial during ceremonies marking the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, September 11, 2013. AFP PHOTO / Chris Pedota / POOLCHRIS PEDOTA/AFP/Getty Images

He heals the brokenhearted
 and binds up their wounds.

He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names.

Psalm 147:3,4 (ESV)

Rosie and I resumed our walks around the pond this week. Summertime we are banned (well, dogs are) which is fine because I don’t like the woods in the summer. Inchworms and ticks and mosquitos…yuk.

Early this morning the cool air had settled across the pond, creating a thin layer of white mist, like a small cloud hovering over the still water and as I stood on the beach staring into it, I remembered it was September 11. I cry when I think of other people who have lost their children, even if those children are 40 or 50, so I stood there looking at the mist and then the perfect blue sky, just like that day 13 years ago, and I wept for them out of that place in my own heart that still cries.

The “We will never forget” that America vowed after that horrid day is an embarrassment now, like so many campaign promises. We did forget, except for this day, which has become mostly a soppy media event, where we again are subjected to smashing planes and burning towers and somber speeches. Then September 12th, we can forget again. But for thousands of families out there, they don’t forget. Their lives imploded, just like those two towers that came crashing down in smoke and rubble.

Someone once said that grief is not a process; grief is love. If you’ve ever read about the five stages of grief, I might add another stage; where you realize that 99% of the books written about grief, like the five stages one, are garbage, unless you’re grieving over your pet hamster. Grief is messy, just like love. In fact as I stood there this morning, watching the mist curl upward like smoke, thinking of the horror of 911, and how many lives were forever changed in an instant, I thought this: Love stinks.

It stinks when you’re lying awake at night wondering where your prodigal child is, trying to rein in the wild and dark imagery of your child in trouble or danger, or worse… The phone rings and your heart flops over like someone just put paddles to it. You’re so mad at that kid, you could kill him. Truthfully, I remember catching myself being angry at Spence for dying. That’s what love does. I tell people with school age kids to just kick back and enjoy. And rest up. Even if the teen years go well, you still have to let go. Yes, let them go; uncurl your little mommy claws from their coattails and release. Like I said, love stinks sometimes.

My son was still alive on September 11th, 2011, but only for about four more months. I remember him saying he would go, he would fight. That’s when America said we would never forget. He had a soldier’s heart, the same heart that put him between a knife and a friend. Like Job, for many months, I cursed the day I was born. I wanted to lie down next to Spence and let the cool earth cover me. But instead I walked around with this gaping hole where my heart was, trying to smile, hiding to cry.

But here’s the thing; love is also the only thing on this crazy planet that gives our existence meaning, shape or purpose. That makes sense, because God is love. He is the ONLY one who can mend that sad little shattered heart, can rebuild the rubble piece by piece, stronger and better than before. It’s a simple equation and easy to remember; God=Love. No matter what.

We do have an option. We can choose to just not love at all. It’s safe and secure, like savings bonds. But unless you’re made of plywood, I’m sure you will spend your whole life knowing you missed it, the one thing that matters most, more than Emmy awards and Nobel Peace prizes or being cool. I remember holding a sobbing woman who was my age after a doctor told her she was going to die from liver disease. She cried with me because I was the only one who could love her. Angry, alcoholic, a life of loving a bottle first, she knew she might have to die alone. That really stinks.

Nellie was one of my patients yesterday. She was 93, almost deaf and about four and a half feet tall. No matter what I said, she thought she was in a hotel and she kept trying to buy me lunch. “No thanks,” I had to yell at her. She smiled, gesturing to the couch in her room for me to sit. Her son was a retired teacher, she said, and I felt a bond with her because one of my sons teaches also. She asked how many children I had and I told her, again having to holler, that I had lost a child, but had two left. Her little wrinkled face creased into a sad frown.

“Oh I’m so sorry! How did he die?”

I couldn’t see myself yelling, “He was murdered!” so I simply yelled,

“It was 12 years ago.” And she nodded, accepting it as not a real answer to her question, but the one I wanted to give. Her smile was grace.

I think that’s how God is when we say, “Love stinks!” It’s not the right answer. But He knows there are no five easy steps, and then you’re done. We will never forget, whether your insides are hanging out and you are gasping for breath, or the pain has settled like an old friend in your favorite chair. The grieving really do want to move forward, to love again, instead of clinging to creepy altars, lighting candles. But we are changed, limping and frail, unfamiliar with ourselves.

Yet God, who refuses to remember our sins after we repent, can remember the name of each star. He does not forget our pain. Almighty Father, Jehovah Rapha – the Lord who heals, leans down and says, “Show me where it hurts.” And He presses His hand right there, in that place. And we love again. That comforts me today, as I think of so many broken hearts.

Love becomes grace, which turns back into praise; the right answer.

And every day, He is worthy of our praise.

Great is our Lord, and abundant in power. His understanding is beyond measure.    Psalm 147-5 ESV