Tag Archives: Twin Towers

The Moments We Never Forget…aka Have You Hugged your Colon Today?

8 May

Mom, reading to our oldest daughter a few years back. This is the stuff of memories. The stuff I hold dear.

You know those moments in your life when you can remember exactly what you were doing when momentous news came your way?

Like when the Twin Towers were bombed in New York. I was getting ready for a typical school day teaching English at a tiny private high school when my students began trickling in with news of a plane crashing into the first tower and soon, “I heard it was two planes,” another student said and I knew that it wasn’t an accident. Or when President Regan was shot, I was in 5th grade, and they broadcast the news over the brand-new school intercom. Or when the space shuttle Challenger blew up, I was in 10th grade and they wheeled televisions out into the locker area of my school and we stood with open mouths and I got in trouble for being late to social studies class – SOCIAL STUDIES! That teacher clearly had no perspective.

Just as those earth-shattering occasions are seared into my memory, so is the time, five years ago this week, when I first heard that my mother had been diagnosed with colon cancer.**

The phone rang and it was my sister, who clearly was upset. I’d had a phone call like this before from her – when Pan American Airlines went bankrupt and our dad, a pilot, suddenly had no job anymore. I couldn’t imagine what was wrong this time and then she told me about Mom and I sat down where I stood and my two oldest kids still remember, “that time when Mom was sitting on the stairs and crying.”

Yes, such things are seared into our memories because we don’t know what’s coming next. We don’t know the who, what, where, when, or why of it, and our nice comfortable lives are suddenly twisted – possibly even beyond recognition – and we stand as if on the edge of a precipice, dizzy, confused, unsure.

My sisters with Mom in our pool when we lived in Miami. I was born during their Miami years, but we moved soon after. Perhaps, if we’d stayed, I’d have learned how to swim?!

After the vertigo passes it’s time for action – quite possibly fog-ridden action, but action nonetheless. We make decisions, we make more phone calls, we look at our loved ones and can’t look away. And we want, more than anything, for life to be normal again. We promise ourselves that we’ll never complain about the pick-up line at the elementary school again. We swear that we’ll be better people, that we’ll cherish every moment and take out the garbage and do the dishes faithfully just so that life can feel normal again.

We want, desperately, to reverse time, to re-claim that rote feeling of normalcy we didn’t even know we had five minutes ago.

And we pray. I pray often anyway, but suddenly that connection with God is vital, real, palpable. Though in those times I often don’t know how to pray or what to say. I remember weeping before God in the days following my mother’s diagnosis, just saying, “Please help”. I knew He’d know how to take it from there.

Mom giving our son a squeeze several years ago. He’s 12 now…and taller than her!

The irony of these moments – these times when we don’t think we can take anymore – is that, sometimes, the trauma is just beginning.

As September 11, 2001 went on, we learned that added to the Twin Towers was the Pentagon crash and the crash in a field in Pennsylvania as well. The tragedies just kept piling up. For my mother, the cancer and proceeding surgery turned into a stroke three weeks later. That phone call was, actually, even harder than the first one. The pain in my father’s voice, the uncertainties piled upon uncertainties, the knowledge that, though we’d traveled out to see Mom after her diagnosis in a whirlwind trip of 1.5 days driving out to Eugene, Oregon, 1.5 days with her and then 1.5 days driving back to Minnesota, we wouldn’t be able to join her again, to lend a hand, to comfort and support.

We were alone.

And, of course, when you’re alone and sad you desperately want your mama to be there with you.

Mom and Dad’s wedding – almost 55 years ago!

There is so much more that could be said about those days and, perhaps, I’ll say them someday. Write them down.

Mom was an excellent seamstress! She made Raggedy Anne or Raggedy Andy – depending on the baby’s gender! – for every grandchild, neice, nephew, great niece or great nephew that was born in our family for years – as well as many friend’s children, too. Sewing has been hard for her since the stroke, so we cherish our raggedies!

But for now, a few images:

Biscuits with Sawmill gravy, the dish I was making for the first time ever on the day my sister called and which turned out greasy and separated and which stuck in my throat like paste. I never, never, see, hear of, or eat biscuits and gravy now without thinking of that day.

Or this picture: our three-month old wee girl, lying on the hospital bed beside Mom. It was the first time Mom had seen her, and we wondered if it would be the last.

Mom in the hospital – the first time she saw her youngest granddaughter, our youngest child. Even after cancer surgery, it made her smile!

Or this: me, sitting in the passenger seat as we drove home, unable to stop crying, desperately trying to capture in words my roiling emotions. The tear-pocked spiral notebook with my scribbled writing that held all the words I managed to get out.

And this: the Columbia River, rolling alongside the highway; the miles and miles of Oregon flying past my window in a benediction of beauty.

Last Christmas we went out to spend the holiday in Washington State with my entire family. It was so great seeing Mom and Dad – and everyone!

And, the image that is above all else, the image that came to me several years before this event, but which always returns in times of crisis:

Me, a wee brown-haired girl, walking along the dirt road by my house where I grew up, holding the hand of a man far larger than I, a man whose face I could not see, but whose love I did not doubt. A man who is far more than a man, who loves me far more than any man ever could.

A man who understands me when all I can say is, “Please help.”

And so, in light of Mother’s Day this Sunday, I say thanks to God for my Mama! I’m so thankful we have her with us still, with her laugher and her sense of humor and her theological discussions and her encouraging words.

I love you, Mom.

**Click on this link for important Colon Cancer information or on this link for colonoscopy information.  Now that it’s been five years since mom’s diagnosis and my colonoscopy that followed, I’m due for another this year!  Aren’t I lucky!  (People without a family history of colon cancer do not have to have colonoscopies as often or as young as I am.  Yes, I’m young, thank you very much!)  Colonoscopies are the best way to keep yourself from suffering from colon cancer.  Just go out and get one if you haven’t yet and you’re over the age of 50.  DO IT.  No, it’s not the most fun thing you’ll ever do.  But it doesn’t compare to getting cancer.

I figured Dad should have a picture, too! This is Mom and Dad last Christmas. Dad is a fantastic and tireless care-giver for Mom. “…In sickness and in health…” Dad took most of these photos – he’s fantastic with a camera!


Where Were You?

11 Sep

I was at my desk, doing those last-minute things a teacher does as her students enter the classroom. Annette walked in, slinging her backpack off her back like millions of other high school kids across the globe. I don’t know who spoke first, or if we exchanged greetings, I just remember her pronouncement.

“I heard a plane crashed into the Twin Towers.”

I remember being surprised she knew what the Twin Towers were, though I’m not sure why it surprised me. I said, “Oh, that’s sad. What a terrible accident.” And I kept on with my mundane tasks, preparing for the day.

Right behind her walked another student – I don’t remember who – and they, picking up on Annette’s words, said, “I heard it was two planes.”

Something in my heart lurched. “Two?” I thought. “Surely that can’t be right. Exageration. Confusion. Two?” And even though I knew nothing more about it than the two simple sentences exchanged as morning gossip, something dark in my heart leapt to life and I thought, “One plane is an accident. Two planes is deliberate.”

“But how can that be?” I wondered as I fumbled for my radio. “I drove here not 30 minutes ago, listening to the news and nothing was happening. What’s the truth behind this?” I didn’t know. I didn’t understand.

The bell to begin First Hour rang as I fiddled with the radio’s knobs, striving to get MPR, ABC, something to come in loud and clear. I got garble; I got fear.

I strode to the front of the classroom, finally giving up on the static, and stood before the small crowd of senior English students. I don’t know what I said, but it was nothing profound. We knew nothing yet, had no definite stories; only fuzz, only disjointed whispers and half-heard anchormen, themselves puzzling together the pieces. They didn’t know. They didn’t understand.

The noise in the hallway, louder and later than usual, settled down as I began our morning devotions. The phone rang in the office, the sound of it reaching up to the balcony above where it floated through my open door. I began to teach because what else was I to do? I didn’t know. I didn’t understand. How could we? The story was still unfolding.

Our principal stood suddenly in the door, the telephone in her hand. She held it out, walking towards me. I took it, thinking wildly, “What is so important that she’s interrupting class? And is she going to stay with my students while I talk and must I really take this call NOW?”

“It’s your husband,” she said.

I looked at her in alarm. Colin was in Los Vegas, on a business trip. Why was he calling? Something – something beyond my control – was happening and I didn’t like the feel of my erratic heart. Or was it the baby lurching in my womb? I didn’t know. I didn’t understand.

Right there, in front of the class, I took the phone.

“I’m okay…,” his voice reached me, small and far away. He was hard to hear. Or was it that I was hard of understanding? “…but we can’t fly home. All the planes are grounded. We’re trying to rent a van to take everyone back. I’ll be in touch when I know more.”

Around me the students were filing past, following the principal to a different classroom; a room with a television, where everyone could sit together and experience whatever this was which was happening. I could hear the TV’s sounds, floating down the hallway, though I could not make out the words. I could barely make out my own thoughts.

“What do you mean all planes are grounded?” I asked, gripping the podium as dizziness gripped my head. The baby felt so heavy, like an impossible weight in the pit of my stomach, like a stone dragging me down as the room spun and I leaned for all I was worth on that wooden pedestal, my mouth dry as dust, all the questions of the world spinning through my head. I didn’t know. I didn’t understand.

“All the planes in the country – in Canada, too, I think – are grounded because of what happened.”


“I’ve got to go, Hun,” Colin’s voice said. “I wanted you to know we’re okay and not to worry. I’ll call you when I can. I’m safe. Don’t worry. I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

I pressed the button to turn off the phone. The room around me shifted; or was it the world? I straightened up and followed the sound of the TV down the hall and into a room full of frightened faces, to a room full of answers; full of questions.

I watched as, within minutes, the second tower fell.

And then I knew. Then I understood, even if through a glass darkly. This is not the same world I woke up in.

“The king is dead. Long live the king.”

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

QUESTION: Where were you? What were you doing? How did your world shift that day?

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