This month’s column marks 20 years of Life Lines in Catholic New York. I remember well my first column, about my then-4-year-old son, Noah, and his nature camp experiences. Except, when that first column ran a month after I wrote it, we were in the throes of 9/11. I can still feel the despair that raced through me when I realized that my happy, life-is-good column was going to run in the aftermath of such horror. Would people think I was being callous in the face of such tremendous loss and pain?
I did write a 9/11 column, which ran in October that year. It drew on the Mercer Mayer book “There’s an Alligator Under My Bed,” a favorite of Noah’s at the time. When I pulled out that old column to read it, I was immediately taken back to the raw, fearful weeks after that awful day:
The night after the World Trade Center attack, I lay awake in my bed staring at the ceiling, filled with a sense of dread that I could not quite put my finger on. I was scared, but not by the images of horror that had flashed before my eyes for hours that day. Instead, my fears seemed frivolous, not at all unlike the little boy’s alligator: Had I left the dryer on in the basement? Was the window over the kitchen sink still open? Were the kids’ pajamas warm enough? I felt a childlike fear of the dark, of things no one else can see, things we parents usually try to hush with a goodnight kiss and a nightlight.
When morning finally arrived, I realized that my sleeplessness wasn’t really about what might go wrong within my four walls. It was about what had gone wrong in our world. Long after I had wiped away the tears of sadness that fell as I watched the World Trade Center collapse over and over again on television’s seemingly endless loop of horror, I fought back tears of a different kind…tears for a world we don’t yet know.
Here we are, 20 years later, with new fears and old wounds and so much water under the bridge and alligators under the bed that it’s hard to know which way is up. And the smartphones in our pockets—“tools” we have now that we didn’t have then—only serve to muddy the waters even more, keeping us tethered to devastating news around the clock and to an abundance of online trolls ready to turn people against one another at every turn. It’s a deadly brew that can push us into a state of constant fear and panic if we don’t make a conscious effort to tune out now and then, not because we are cold-hearted but because we need to be able to get up in the morning and put one foot in front of the other.
Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber hit the nail on the head when she wrote recently: “I just do not think our psyches were developed to hold, feel and respond to everything coming at them right now; every tragedy, injustice, sorrow and natural disaster happening to every human across the entire planet, in real time every minute of every day. The human heart and spirit were developed to be able to hold, feel and respond to any tragedy, injustice, sorrow or natural disaster that was happening IN OUR VILLAGE.”
When you are feeling overwhelmed by the world and all its sadness, take a deep breath, say a prayer, seek out your village and begin there. And whatever you do, unplug for a day or a week or however long you need to find your center, the Light in the darkness that will guide you through every storm. Be not afraid.
Mary DeTurris Poust is a writer, retreat leader and director of communications for the Diocese of Albany. Visit her website at www.NotStrictlySpiritual.com.