Stamp Collecting….In Memoriam
My crisp new passport arrived yesterday. The blank pages seem pretty deflating, considering that my last one was stuffed with adventurous stamps given by grouchy officials sitting on high stools, inside their glass boxes, flourescent lights glinting the flickering computer screen that tells them I’m just another boring tourist.
Of all the stamps, the most memorable, by far, is on page 8. It’s the one I got on September 11, 2001.
We left LAX on September 10 and endured an awful flight to New York City. As we neared the airport, we were told the plane would circle the city for awhile. Turbulence. As we went round and round in circles, we tried to spot familiar places in the dark. Our flight was going to be 2 hours late and we were in no hurry to get to Europe on time. Joel and I decided to give up on making that last flight out of New York and just take our time, call some friends in the city, sightsee tomorrow and catch the scheduled flight the next day. This was only Day 1 on a very long adventure….why not take a day to explore New York?
Have you ever seen the Statue of Liberty?
What about Staten Island?
No, I’m telling you, I’ve only been in and out of New York!
World Trade Center?
So, it was settled. We’d do the rush tour of NYC tomorrow. What a great start to our trip together. And a chance to sleep tonight in a real bed. I was already exhausted.
We let many hurried travelers get off the plane in front of us and told them, “No worries. We’re not going anywhere tonight.” So, when we finally eased our way down the corridor, the stewardess asked us our next flight, flipped her paper over, and then started frantically shouting orders, “This way!! You’ve gotta RUN! They’re closing the doors!”
Shockingly, we ran.
Looking back, it was the weirdest thing. We ran like our lives depended on it. Like those idiots you see running through the airport that think there will never be another option to escape Minneapolis if they don’t get out in the next 90 seconds. When we couldn’t go any faster, we jumped on a “people mover” and I yelled to Joel, “I thought we weren’t going to do this!!”
He shrugged and said, “I know! I’ll run ahead and have them hold it for you.”
When I got there, they rushed us through and closed the doors behind us. We were sweating and hot as we walked down the aisle of the plane, mindlessly bumping people with our bags as we tried to sort through our confusion and frustration of now being locked into an 8 hour flight to Europe.
When I fell into my seat, I asked, “What happened?!?”
“I don’t know.”
I felt compelled to run. Like I was being pushed. I didn’t want to run. I even knew I didn’t want to get on this flight, but something inside told me I had to.
Most of the world discovered the news several days before we did.
Upon landing in Sofia, Bulgaria, we were told, “A very big accident has happened in your country.” And then we were rushed off to an apartment without TV, internet or radio to begin our next video project. It wasn’t until we were out in the city one night and walked past a TV store, that we started to grasp the magnitude of what had occurred. As we scanned the different TV’s, we read outloud the scrolling text at the bottom of the screens, piecing together the bits of information. It was no accident. Were we at war? Are we supposed to go home? Can we get home?
That didn’t happen for two months. The barrage of flags and yellow ribbons was overwhelming, but I felt as though I’d missed being an American during the most important display of solidarity in my lifetime. I felt like a tourist in my own town.
When the one year anniversary of 9/11 came, we watched the events unfold hour by hour, as memorial services marked each event and broadcasters had finally found words for the disaster. For us, it was the first time we’d seen much of that day. Joel called his boss and told him he was going to stay home and we sat in front of the television all day until they quit covering it at 10 that night. The silence afterward was too much and we got up to eat something. But instead, we stood in the kitchen, holding each other, crying for the first time about a tragedy that had rocked the planet one year earlier.
Five years later, I’m wondering what interesting stamps my new passport will hold over the next decade. Where will I go between now and the distant 2016 when my passport expires? I’m full of certainty that I will be free to travel, explore other continents, to go about practically wherever I want if I go respectfully, but yes, freely.
The gravity of evil is still a part of us, many times on a daily basis, as life and “standard procedure” has forever been changed by that event. But power of that devastation lies in what it left behind.
I’m reminded that our most well-planned, “contacts-on-the-ground” video shoots are only an instant away from upheaval when God chooses. And, that even in the midst of war or devastation, I can have the confidence to enter uncharted territory if I am called by Heaven to boldly enter, to tell the story of those enduring hardships.
This week, we remember those killed and cling with determination that the world is not out of control, but has a God who continually renews us with purpose and confidence.