While I know exactly what it is that I’m thankful for today, I’m not quite sure what to call it, or at least in one all-inclusive word.
I want to say that I am thankful for tragedy, which is only at least partially true, and not for the reasons that one might guess. Today, I am not thankful for tragedy itself, but rather for tragedy’s ability to bring those together who would be separated under other circumstances, and for its ability to bring those who are together even closer.
Today is the eight year anniversary of the terrorist attacks that claimed two major American landmarks and over two thousand lives. A lot has happened since this day that has shocked both our own nation and that of our neighbors. Overseas and across borders, countless other terrorist attacks on smaller scales, natural disasters, and tragedies have taken place.
It would be nice to be political and “relevant”, but there is so much gray area to be found. Are we to find the ones responsible, or every single person reminiscent of those responsible? The past eight years have been terribly messy, and I would argue, mishandled. But there are greater things to spend our time with, to focus on. I’m taken not by the impact of this date, but by what it has yielded. By people of different creeds and colors being brought together temporarily. I am taken by a nation who, if for a moment, looked towards God and not their wallets.
Yes, today is a day of mourning. And yet, by mourning, we can mean so many different things. Mourning can mean remembrance, it can mean the shedding of tears, and as I have come to understand it, it can even mean joy. Joy for what once was.
This day means many different things to different people. It is a war crime for some, a cry for patriotism. To others, whom lost the ones they loved eight years ago today, this day is much more real, more painful, more personal. This day belongs to them, for it sticks with them not for one twenty-four hour day, but for each twenty-four hour day of the year.
I can’t speak for those people. I can only offer my own grief, my own confusion.
I think of my own mother that passed away twelve Decembers ago. On the most recent anniversary of the day she passed, I woke up thinking that I should spend the day in a cloud of sadness, that I should do only the sort of things that make one sulk. I felt compelled to wrap my day in melancholy and be ritualistic about the entire thing. To dust off the old photo albums, to bring her up in conversation. But I did none of these things. As I was putting on my shoes, I thought of what Suzy Taylor might have had me do. I think she would have me enjoy this day. If not for me, then for her.
So, I took my sister to the mall. We went to coffeeshops, clothing stores with their silly styles, and laughed at all the junior high kids playing on their cell phones, traveling in packs, making out. My sister and I talked and talked and talked. Mom came up in conversation, but she wasn’t the centerpiece, which is the way our conversations would have gone were she still here.
On the way home, I thought I felt her smile somewhere in the car. I looked around and found it on my sister’s face. My sister is not my mom, but she lives through her. Through me. And I think that had she known what we did on that day, she probably would have been proud. I realize that two kids going to the mall isn’t exactly a textbook definition of proper remembrance, but then again, that’s what I love about my family. We haven’t done too many things by the book.
What I am trying to say is that the sun shone magnificently today in Upland, Indiana. Now, Upland, Indiana does not necessarily speak for the rest of the world. I realize that. But the fact that the sun was shining today speaks volumes, at least, in my mind. The fact that the sun was shining today made me think of the beauty that we can find through sadness; of the joy found in grief. It made me think of New Orleans funerals, more than anything, which rather than reminiscing of what we have lost with the deceased, choose to celebrate of what we have gained through their living.
And I think, this is why the brave people on flight ninety-three fought back. Why the firefighters gave their lives to save people from the rubble. So that we could live our lives. So that we could do ordinary things like going to the mall.
Today has mostly been ordinary for me. And for the rest of America. Many have forgotten what today signifies. My gut tells me that this is a bad thing. And yet, when I pause, I wonder how bad of a thing it really is. I realize that people join the armed forces for a variety of reasons. Some economical, others philosophical. But maybe, just maybe those who have fought, and who are fighting, are fighting not for days like this one, but for the ordinary ones.
And it is for these reasons that I am thankful for tragedy. Thankful for the ordinary beauty found through its pain. What are you thankful for today?