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Everyone who’s old enough to remember has a 9/11 story.  Mine is probably fairly typical of those of us with no personal connection to the events, and I’ve never written about it because it feels too much like trying to hop on the tragedy train in order to capitalize on the pageview potential.  But on this 15th anniversary I have some reflections I feel compelled to share.

My memories of that day are fragmented.  I was standing in my sunny yellow kitchen, chunky six-month-old William on my hip, when the phone rang–my husband, telling me to turn on the television.  A couple of hours later I picked him up at his downtown office and we went to lunch–at the top of the tallest building in Knoxville, which I remember feeling nervous about.

In the lobby of the building they were selling extra editions of the Knoxville News Sentinel, something so out of the ordinary that it was frightening.  We were all so desperate for news and there was no Twitter or Facebook to provide the instantaneous updates we’ve come to expect when a crisis strikes today.

On the elevator ride up to the 27th floor two men in business suits were discussing a mutual acquaintance whose son was in one of the towers.  At the time everyone still hoped he would be found alive.

I was worried when it was time to pick up the kids from school.  What did they know? What would I tell them?  Emily was ten and already knew.  Jake and Teddy were six and seven.  I remember at first just telling them that some bad people had done a very bad thing.  Because of my kids, I did not obsessively watch the television coverage for days as so many did.  I did not want them to see the towers falling.

The house we lived in back then was in a flight path.  We were accustomed to hearing noisy airplanes on their descent approach.  For the next few days, it was eerily quiet.  Once we heard an airplane and we all ran outside, terrified, to see a military plane overhead.  We were all on edge.  For some time after 9/11, loud noises made me jump.

Flash forward to the 10th anniversary, September 11, 2011, five years ago.  Six days out from our own personal tragedy, we were homeless–John and I and the little kids living with my sister Betsy, Emily away at college, Jake and Teddy staying with school friends, even our dog being farmed out to my other sister.  We had lost just about every material possession.  I didn’t have the emotional energy to think about 9/11.  I remember writing on Facebook that I felt guilty posting about our circumstances with all the posts about the anniversary reminding me that our tragedy was small by comparison.

Since its launch in 2004, Facebook has become a fixture in our society, the way most of us keep in touch,  read news, express our feelings on matters both personal and political.  I can’t help but wonder how our experience of 9/11 would have been different if Facebook had existed back then.  I know that in the case of our September 2011 disaster Facebook was how shared the news and received encouragement and help.  This year, on the 5th anniversary of the fire, I was looking forward to seeing those old posts in the “On This Day” feature that Facebook helpfully notifies me about first thing each morning.  I braced myself a little because those memories are painful, but recalling the support of friends, family, and acquaintances is uplifting.

Imagine my surprise, then, that even though five years ago I was posting about nothing but the fire and its aftermath for probably two weeks, my Facebook memories are a cheery collection of memes and articles and comments from every year but 2011.  Facebook has apparently decided without any input from me that the events of September 2011 are too traumatic and I couldn’t possibly want to revisit them.  Presumably if 9/11 had occurred in the Facebook era, it would also be scrubbed from everyone’s “On This Day” feature as something too dark to recall.

And while I am in awe of Facebook’s algorithms and appreciate their intent (as I know people in particular who have been blindsided by unexpected and unwanted visceral reminders of such events as the death of a child), I don’t WANT to forget September 2011.

I don’t particularly want to remember the sight of my burned down house and the destruction of all my treasured possessions, but I do want to remember the offers of shelter, the months of meals, the clothes and toys and gift cards, the love and the prayers.  I won’t forget them, not ever, but I also like seeing them on Facebook.  It’s worth seeing the pictures to see them, and the pictures provide the context for appreciating them.

Today my newsfeed is flooded with “We Remember” and “Never Forget” memes.  Some show the Twin Towers in ruins, some show them intact, bathed in heavenly light.  I’m sure when some people say they won’t forget they mean they won’t forget the terrorists, the hated enemies who committed this vile and cowardly attack, the outrage of being attacked on our own soil.  Our country has changed since 9/11 and I don’t think it has changed for the better.  We have become an angrier country, a frightened country, a deeply divided country.  That’s not the America I love and that’s not what I want to remember about 9/11.

What I want to remember are those who gave their lives in service to others, the way foreign countries rallied around us, the incredible feeling of unity as Americans.  And what struck me most at the time and remains with me now and what I want to remember most of all is the same thing I want to remember about September 2011:  the love–that when people were afraid they were going to die, the last thing they did if they could was call their spouses and parents and children, to say I love you just one last time.

september-11-remember-the-love

 

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Unless all your Facebook friends think exactly like you, your newsfeed is probably like mine right now–completely polarized on the issue of admitting Syrian refugees to the United States.

On one side are those who believe that terrorists will take advantage of the situation to sneak into the country to do us harm.  On the other are those who believe we have a moral responsibility to welcome the stranger.  Some of the first group are racists who think all Muslims are terrorists; most feel bad for the refugees but are sincerely concerned about the safety of themselves and their loved ones.  Some of the second group are motivated by Christian beliefs, others by their sense of what this country is supposed to stand for.

Both groups demonize the other.  Both groups are afraid–one of the consequences to our country if we admit the refugees, the other of the consequences if we don’t.

Both groups seem increasingly desperate in their attempts to convince each other that they are right, posting and reposting poorly-sourced and slanted news articles and judgmental memes.

I fell prey to this temptation myself the other day when I posted this:

While 40 of my friends “liked” this post, many others, lacking a “dislike” option, shared their feelings in the comments.  In the end, I realized that posting something like this might make me feel good for a minute or two, but it doesn’t convince those who disagree with my position to change their minds.  I left it up, if anyone wants to read the discussion it engendered.

Lesson learned, since then I’ve gone back to trying to be informative rather than judgmental and I’ve done a lot of reflecting on what this crisis is doing to our country and to our relationships with each other.

If the goal of terrorism is to create fear, then we are all letting the terrorists win.  If half of us are so afraid of terror attacks that we are ready to ignore our responsibility as Christians, human beings, and yes, American patriots to welcome the stranger, the terrorists are winning.  If the other half of us are letting this disagreement divide our nation, if we are demonizing our friends, neighbors, and relatives instead of trying to alleviate their fears, the terrorists are winning.

Lorelei has a great picture book called The Monster Who Grew Small.

A retelling of an Egyptian folktale, it is the story of a boy who is afraid of everything.  On a quest to find courage, he comes upon a village of people so paralyzed by fear of a nearby monster that they are unable to function.  As the boy approaches the terrible creature, he finds that it grows smaller and smaller until he is able to pick it up in his hand and take it with him back to the village:

The people crowded round to see the Monster. It woke up, yawned a small puff of smoke, and began to purr. A little girl said to Miobi, “What is its name?”
“I don’t know,” said Miobi, “I never asked it.”
It was the Monster himself who answered her question. He stopped purring, looked round to make sure everyone was listening, and then said:
“I have many names. Some call me Famine, and some Pestilence, but the most pitiable of humans give me their own names.” It yawned again, and then added, “But most people call me What-Might-Happen.

Are we going to let the fear of What-Might-Happen destroy our country from within?  Even if you take issue with calling America a Christian nation, there’s no denying that the majority of Americans say that they are Christians.  Aren’t Christians supposed to believe that God is in control?

So I’ll leave you with these words from 1 John 4:

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. . . There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. . . If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen,cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command:  Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

What might happen if we embraced love–both of our fellow Americans who disagree with us and of refugees–instead of fear?

Love is what we were born with. Fear is what we learned here.- Marianne Williamson.png

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Love, love, love, love:

Christians, this is your call;

Love your neighbor as yourself

For God loves us all.

We sang it in a round and we sang it well, because Sister Janice had us practice it before Mass began.  We sat on the hard metal folding chairs in the cafeteria/chapel and sang it over and over again, but we didn’t really understand it.  Not yet.

I remember well wondering–maybe even asking–just exactly how we were supposed to love everyone?  I couldn’t comprehend how I was supposed to love people I didn’t know, had never met, or maybe did know and didn’t like!  I seem to recall that my mother told me I would understand one day.

And she was right.  I don’t know exactly when my heart broke open and I started to care about everyone in the world, to love them–maybe not as much as I love myself, because that would be too demanding, wouldn’t it? But at least enough to feel empathy for them, to cry at their stories, to make allowances for their faults.

I’m not an especially nice person.  I think that most people reach a point in life where they too understand that kind of love.  And this love–agape–is the basis for compassion, for feeling with another person.

And yet wars, violence, hate, division–these do not go away.  Your Facebook Timeline is probably littered with memes that are the antithesis of love and compassion right this minute.  I think that’s because the demands of this love are too much for us and so we protect ourselves by “otherizing.”  If this person or that person or this group or that group is NOT LIKE US, we can tell ourselves we don’t really have to love them.  We can label them monsters, or heathens, or extremists, or deadbeats, or fanatics, or even liberals and conservatives.  Then we can get back to loving the people who are more like us.

Some say that Christianity–and please understand I am not advocating for imposing a state religion, just talking about what might happen if all Christians radically followed all the teachings of Christ–could never work to solve the problems of the world on a wide scale.  GK Chesterton made this famous response: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”

What if we tried it, really tried it?  What if we let ourselves love?  How would the world be transformed?

And that reminds me of another song we used to sing when I was a little girl at St. Joseph School.

They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love;

Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

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https://lesliesholly.wordpress.com/2015/03/22/more-than-a-feeling/  #love

Like most people, I routinely share pictures I consider to be cute or profound on my Facebook wall.  Sometimes I’m surprised by the lack of attention paid to something I found particularly noteworthy; other times one picture gets more likes than I expected.  And who knows how much any of this has to do with the value of the pictures themselves versus those mysterious and ever-changing Facebook algorithms?

Still, the picture above resonated with more people than the usual random post.  I shared it almost off-handedly–I can’t even remember whose wall I found it on–and it had been shared so many times before it got to me that I can’t find an original creator to credit it to.

I related to this picture because it conveys a powerful message about what love IS and what it ISN’T.  Love is ACTION, not FEELING.

Those romantic and mushy feelings we all enjoy at the beginning of a relationship are wonderful.  And I promise you that after 25 years I still have those feelings for my husband.  But not all the time.

The strength of your love for someone shows in how you care for them when you are not feeling mushy or romantic AT ALL.  When I’m feeling angry and resentful towards my husband and yet I still get his medicines together for him in the morning (and don’t add arsenic), that’s love.  When I wash the clothes he needs in the morning which he put in the hamper at bedtime, that’s love.  When I go outside in the rain to roll up the windows of his car, even though we just had a fight, that’s love.

If you have been married any length of time, you know these things.  If you haven’t gotten married yet, you had better learn them now.  Romance can only take you so far.  Flowers and candlelight are great and I still like them, but having the capacity and the will to ACT loving when you just aren’t feeling it is what will enable a relationship to endure.

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Twenty-five years ago today, which would have been a Thursday night, John and friends were having a bachelor party (and the less said about that the better!) while my friends and I celebrated more sedately at the family home of one of my bridesmaids.  We were married two days later, on August 12, 1989, which means that we are marking our silver anniversary this week.

Yes, we have been married for a quarter of a century.  It sounds even longer when you put it that way, but no matter how you put it, it is an accomplishment, and nowadays it seems like a rare one.  John and I both have definite ideas about the importance of marriage and commitment and what has to be done to maintain that, and luckily those are issues we agree about strongly.  I told John I would probably be writing a “marriage tips” blog post some time this week, and asked him for his input, and I didn’t disagree with anything he said.

Sometimes it seems like it’s been more like half a century, and sometimes it feels like we were married yesterday.  No one going in truly understands what “for better, for worse,” really means.  Like everyone, we’ve had joy and sorrow, bitter arguments and harmonious agreement.  There have been long stretches when we couldn’t stand each other, when love was something we DID, not something we FELT.

You love your kids unconditionally from the moment of their birth.  That’s biology.  Loving the person you are married to is a decision and a commitment that you must renew every day.  You might know that intellectually when you get married, especially if you’ve been lucky enough to undergo some kind of marriage preparation, but you can’t and won’t understand what that’s like until you are in the middle of it.

I vividly remember saying to John, when we had been dating all of six months, that it didn’t seem like enough just to SAY “I love you,” anymore:  I wanted to LIVE it.  That’s what marriage is, and we didn’t know how hard, or how rewarding, it would be.  Those romantic early days were wonderful.  I love remembering them.  And I’m happy to say that we still like romance and spending time together and that spark has never gone out.  But love sustained and nurtured over twenty-five years is  stronger and richer and deeper and profound in ways we could not have understood back then.

John and I were only 22 and 23 when we took this life-altering step, when we yoked ourselves together forever.  We were young and we didn’t know a lot of things but we knew that we believed in marriage and that no matter what happened we would not break the vows we made.

Just see how young we were:

Wedding Couple

And we were surrounded by friends who were just as young, almost all of whom are still important parts of our lives:

wedding group 1

wedding group 3

wedding group 2

The Entire Wedding Party

And of course by family, many of whom are gone now:

wedding group 4

Emily and I were talking yesterday about why Catholic wedding ceremonies are supposed to take place inside a church.  I’ve been to some lovely outdoor weddings but as I sat this morning at Mass I was thinking how grateful I was that I still attend church every Sunday in the building where my parents were married, where I was baptized, were we were married, where four of our kids were baptized and two have been confirmed.  That’s a blessing.

wedding couple 7

wedding bride

wedding couple 6

wedding couple 4

wedding couple 8

We haven’t decided yet exactly how we will celebrate on Tuesday.  There probably won’t be dancing:

wedding couple 5

wedding kids

But there may be cake!

wedding cake

 

 

 

 

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That’s how long ago it’s been, as of today, that John and I have been a couple.  On February 16, 1987, he asked me if I would be interested in going out with him, and I bet if he could have seen the future, he would have run the other way instead.  But I guess if any of us could see the future we’d run the other way, right?

I went to college with the express intention of finding a husband.  I also said he would be a lawyer (because I thought all attorneys were rich!) and that we would have a lot of children (I wanted ten) and I would stay home with them.  I got what I planned for, although it doesn’t always look exactly the way I thought it would!  John went to college to prepare to join the Foreign Service.  He was going to live a wild bachelor existence until he was at least 30, and he wasn’t really interested in having children at all.  He also got what I wanted. 🙂  I think he’s not sorry, most days.

Our early courtship was . . . shall we say . . . complicated, because John had been dating my roommate first.  But we worked through that, and all the things that followed.  We were best friends first, and I know that helped (still does).  We also enjoyed one of those romantic, chemistry-charged beginnings–and we can usually recall those feelings when we need a boost, even if that kind of intensity cannot be sustained non-stop for 25 years.

We’ve always celebrated this date with the same fervor as our wedding anniversary–which is probably why Valentine’s Day has never been a big deal for us.  The first year we were dating, we exchanged cards on the 16th of every month!  John planned to pop the question on August 16, 1988, which would have been our 18 month anniversary, but once he had the ring he just couldn’t wait, so he asked on July 16 instead.

I have an exceptionally clear and detailed memory of my whole life up until I started having children.  Ask anybody.  And I’m glad, because I can conjure up not only the feelings of those early days (not wanting to eat, seeing John’s face floating above the Platonic dialogue I was supposed to be reading, being able to think of nothing but our next meeting . . .) but the actual details (what happened each day leading up to the 16th, where I sat and waited for John to meet me after his class, him playing “Only the Good Die Young” whenever I came over– and no, it did not work!).  This is more important than ever now.

Because normally today I would go to my dresser drawer and pull out a sheaf of love letters and cards from the first year of that courtship, still in their envelopes, many addressed not to “Leslie” but to “Pumpkin” or whatever the pet name of the week was, neatly arranged in chronological order.  It embarrassed John to hear the things he wrote back then, but I treasured them, and realizing they were reduced to ashes was the post-fire moment that brought me closest to tears.

Which brings me to a happier story that I don’t think I’ve shared yet.  When I tell people that our house burned down, the thing they all are most upset by is the loss of all our pictures (we will be the last generation that can lose pictures to fire, thanks to computers).  Now, honestly, I was more upset about a lot of things.  That’s because I made triple prints of every photo and sent one whole set to John’s family in Baltimore, so I knew that most pictures of our kids survived somewhere.  I thought, though, that our pre-kid pictures were gone for good.

One day John went over to the ruins to get our fire proof box, which had all the negatives for our pictures, including our wedding pictures.  Sadly, fireproof does not mean waterproof, and everything in the box was ruined.  But John also came home with a photo album with some salvageable pictures.  I sent him back to look again and he returned with most of our photo albums and the baby books too! Somehow, amidst the utter destruction of the room they were in, the built-in cabinet they were stored in provided some level of protection.  The albums are singed and many pictures are ruined.  But many can be saved.

I can’t do it.  Looking at the destroyed ones upsets me and so does the very strong smell of fire.  But Emily worked on it at Christmas time and will finish the job this summer.  And because of this little miracle, I do have a couple of courtship pictures to illustrate this story.

My 21st Birthday

Diplomatic Ball – Georgetown 1988

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