In view of the ongoing war in Iraq, the fighting between Israel and Lebanon, and all of the unrest in our world today, perhaps this article will remind us to look forward to finding some beauty amidst the ashes in spite of wars and other heartbreaking tragedies.
Words can never express the deep sorrow and pain my husband and I feel for the thousands of people who suffered the loss of loved ones on the fateful day that will be forever known as “Black Tuesday.” In time, towers, skyscrapers, and other beautiful and historical edifices destroyed or damaged by deliberate terrorist acts can be rebuilt or restored. But the lives of those thousands of innocent people can never be replaced on Planet Earth.
Will anyone who survived or witnessed the unspeakable tragedies on September 11, 2001 ever be the same again? This is the chilling question being repeated in America and around the world since that unforgettable morning.
September 11, 2001 was a typically beautiful autumn morning when my husband and I awoke to greet another new day. Small rays of bright sunshine peeked through the edges of the mini blinds that shade our bedroom windows. As is my husband’s usual morning ritual, he made his way to the kitchen and turned on the coffee pot. It wasn’t long until the tantalizing aroma of coffee wafted its way into our bedroom.
While waiting for the coffee to finish brewing, I opened the blinds and listened to the cheerful songs of a choir of songbirds I saw perched in our flowering cherry tree. They sounded happy just to be alive and I felt blessed that they found our yard a friendly habitat. At times I fully believe their sole mission in life is to entertain us with their cheery singing.
Like the songbirds, I too was happy just to be alive that morning. The previous day, September 10th, had been a very special day for my husband and me – it was our Golden Anniversary. In retrospect that day, we had talked about how swiftly those fifty years had passed and how many blessings we had enjoyed. We also reminisced how coincidental it was that we were married on a Monday and that our 50th anniversary was on a Monday. It was wartime back in 1951, and just two short weeks after we were married my new husband, who was serving in the U.S. Army at that time, boarded a troop ship that took him across the Pacific Ocean. He would spend the next thirteen long months in the war-torn country of Korea. On our Golden Anniversary we once again thanked God, as we have so many times over the years, for his safe return from Korea.
The ringing of our bedroom telephone suddenly interrupted my thoughts. It was our son asking if we had heard the news that both the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington D.C. had been bombed by terrorists. Not having heard this appalling news yet, we were both stunned beyond belief when we turned on the television and saw with horror, fear, and disbelief what was happening. Those atrocious events are still unfolding as I write, and we fear they will continue to unfold for years to come.
Once again, my husband and I counted our blessings – this time with extremely grateful hearts. For it was just one year ago almost to the day that we were touring the beautiful city of Washington D. C. and celebrating our 49th anniversary with a dear couple that shares our anniversary date. Had we postponed our anniversary trip until this September, we would without a doubt have been involved in some way in the nightmare of “Black Tuesday.”
One of the many places we visited in Washington D. C. was the Korean War Veterans Memorial. I will never forget how deeply that poignant memorial affected my husband. He was moved to tears as he stood there remembering some of his good buddies that were lost during that long, ugly war. The Korean War Memorial reminded us that America would never forget the heroic men and women who lost their lives or are still missing somewhere in Korea for the sake of freedom.
With millions of other Americans, we too promise never to forget the thousands of innocent people killed at the Pentagon and Word Trade Center who will forever be missing from their family circles. Nor will we ever forget the courageous men and women who all lost their lives aboard the hijacked plane that crashed near Pittsburgh. They too are fallen heroes who very courageously struggled with the terrorists aboard who were bent on destroying our nation’s Capitol. Today, many people the world over are wondering and asking: Can anything beautiful be found amidst all of those ashes?
The huge billows of smoke that engulfed and ultimately imploded the Twin Towers on “Black Tuesday” was a grim reminder to us of the colossal eruption of Mount St. Helens here in Washington State twenty years ago. Many people asked a similar question on that dark day: Can anything beautiful ever grow again amidst the tons of lava and ash that spewed from that snow-capped mountain peak? Sadly, the human lives lost during that eruption could never be replaced either. However, trees and flowers now bloom on the hillsides; graceful deer, bears, elk, and many other wild animals have returned; fish are swimming in the nearby fresh water streams; butterflies and birds fly free against the azure blue skies. The landscape that had become an ugly, barren wasteland in the space of a few hours has come back to life. Yes, the beauty of nature around Mount St. Helens has returned, and as impossible as it seemed twenty years ago, one can again find beauty amidst the ashes.
When we toured Washington D.C. last year, we saw many beautiful and historic sights. Our nation’s Capitol was one of the highlights of our tour. It was a privilege to be able to attend a brief legislative session in the famous chamber where Congress meets to negotiate both national and international affairs. The Capitol rotunda left us totally speechless with its vast spectacular architecture. Beautiful landscapes and portraits painted by master artists of years gone by grace the huge walls of the rotunda and are simply breathtaking.
Each day when we took the subway between Arlington, Virginia and Washington D.C. we had a fabulous view of the Pentagon. We thoroughly enjoyed our tour of the Space Center and the Smithsonian Institute. The Washington Monument could be seen standing proud and tall from most any vantage point as we visited the many other historical places that surround Smithsonian Square.
We couldn’t help but stand in awe at the indescribable beauty of our National Cathedral, both inside and out. This year, it was with heavy hearts that we watched the memorial service held in that legendary cathedral after the terrorist attack. We cried together with the mourners, with our country’s leaders, with our fellow Americans, and with the whole world. We also rejoiced as we saw and felt the unity of the various political and religious leaders who participated in that memorable memorial service.
After the memorial service was over, I sought solace for myself in my humble backyard flower garden, wondering how I would cope under such dreadful circumstances. During our travels last summer we also toured many gorgeous gardens along the way that I photographed. So I took out my photo albums to revisit those beautiful gardens. The gorgeous garden pictured here is known as the “Bishop’s Garden” and it graces one side of our National Cathedral. This lovely garden was especially meaningful to me when I was strolling through it a year ago, and is even more meaningful today. I believe gardens are special places where beauty, peace, solace, and perhaps a small measure of comfort can be found for those who have suffered such indescribable loss. For although gardens are planted and tended by human gardeners, the flowers, trees, and shrubs that grow there are beyond doubt the handiwork of God, the Divine author of beauty and peace.
My prayer is that many who are mourning the loss of family members, friends, and fellow Americans as the result of “Black Tuesday” will read this article and will once again – in time – find beauty amidst ashes.