Thursday night, watching the MSNBC re-broadcast of the news program from that 9-11 morning seven years ago, I reflected on how little we knew at the time, and all we have learned since then. And all we have forgotten, as well. Surely we needed to forget some things, or at least gain distance from them. But there was at least one "knowing" I hoped to make permanent.
Our family gathered that October seven years ago on the Arkansas River. We had planned the event long before 9-11. We arrived in a different mood than we had anticipated. The news was still full of updates on Ground Zero, and the hijackers, and all those events that we were still reeling from. My family, like most, had a vigilant sense of the precariousness of life in those days. Each shared story, each shared laugh, was being stored up for future savoring, even as it occurred. The sense of deep change in our world was almost overpowering. Whatever once was taken for granted, was now in question. So many questions. Yet we laughed a lot. We spent a long time on the porch of the rented cabin, talking under tall trees and watching 'helicopter' seeds spiral down, adding a playful distraction and undertone to the conversation, soothing troubled hearts.
I took a chair down to the riverbank. There I entered deep silence as I watched a solitary white crane, fishing in the shallows. The bird stood for long periods of time, waiting. Occasionally he moved, stepping slowly, carefully, delicately, the sticks of his legs bending at sharp angles, his beak stabbing precisely from time to time. It was the stillness that caught my attention, the patience. No wasted motions.
In the silence of the golden autumn, life seemed the same. The river flowed as always, as if nothing had happened. It felt strange to me that the earth was going on as before, as if nothing could be momentous enough to change the flow of a shallow river, the life of a crane. The fish he ate would be eaten or not, regardless of what humanity was busily trying to do.
Sudden tears rolled down my face, my breath caught in my throat. I felt a shift in the mourning, fear and anger that had filled my heart for the last month.
It was not so much that I suddenly trusted in a peaceful world. Rather, it was that I came to know more about how to live in the world that is. To know that I could be still, patient. That I could savor the light and shadows of a fall afternoon, and the tiny mystery of helicopter seeds, and the gift of laughter drifting off the porch behind me.