I remember, in the days following 9/11, having the distinct and depressing feeling that I had not one skill that was of use in a crisis. I think everyone wanted to help in some way back then and the whole thing was so shocking and surreal and overwhelming that there was no sense, even, of what was needed. But I remember feeling that I was basically useless and it felt … not good.
My boys were young at the time and I was finishing my first master’s degree, in education. I was in love; indeed, Richard and I got engaged on 9/12, so my life was rich in many ways. But I could not shake the nagging sense that, in the face of real crisis, actual disaster, all that I knew and all I had done added up to one big pile of nothing.
Over time the desire to be of use in the world spurred me toward a number of things: Firefighter1 training, which included HazMat Ops, or what the heck do you do with the hazardous materials that are now seeping into your water table after the train derailed in your little town? It was basically eight months of pushing myself to do things I never thought I would or could do, like drive a pumper truck and enter a burning building wearing 40 pounds of gear; perform CPR on a person who is not breathing, get that piece of meat you’re choking on out of your windpipe.
I also went through hospice training, to learn more about death and dying. Daisy and I passed the tests to become a Therapy Dog team. I jumped out of a plane just to know that I could. And I started work on another master’s, this time in pastoral care so that, at the very least, I would have some basic counseling skills for people in crisis.
Our world and our lives are nothing these days if not one crisis after another. For the past eighteen years I’ve been working to get myself to the place where I will never again feel the way I did after the planes hit the towers.
This week I am headed to Kansas City for four days of very specific disaster response training. Most of it will be in the medical realm: disaster medicine, tropical diseases, medical supply chain, as I’ll be working with teams of medical professionals who are called to respond to natural disasters around the world.
We all know, deep in our hearts, that it is our own mismanagement of this beautiful planet that’s causing these crises, so “natural” probably isn’t the right term. All of it is man-made, with greed as the main ingredient. Take take take, use use use and eventually things start to fall apart, right? I feel a tremendous strength of conviction that each of us is tasked with a moral imperative to respond in some way, to balance the immense scales of pain and suffering, of loss and degradation. It may very well be why I was called to a pulpit as it’s the message I spew almost every single week: leave this building and get to work; the world needs your hands and your heart and your time and your love.
Here in Vermont I can look out my window and see nothing but beauty: the trees, the lake, the geese returning to their summer home in Canada. It’s quiet and peaceful and idyllic and it’s also kind of a joke. In the real world terrible things are happening with alarming frequency.
Eighteen years have passed since we all watched those buildings fall, the chaos in New York that day. Those moments and all the ones we have faced since are a call to action and by that I don’t mean war. Everyone wanted to fight someone back then; everyone was suddenly a terrific patriot with American flags on their houses and cars and bikes and shirts. It was ridiculous; we got ourselves into a war without end and built an even bigger building in the place of the ones that got knocked down. That’ll show ‘em who’s boss.
Meanwhile: Haiti, Croatia, Ecuador, Mexico City, Matthew, Katrina, Harvey, Irma, Indonesia, Thailand, Florence, Camp, Woosley, Mozambique, Nebraska, and that’s a very short list. All of these, every single event is a call to action. That hungry person sitting on the street corner, call to action. The kid who has nowhere to go after school, call to action. The old man who is shivering on the steps of the church while you drive by in your nice car today, call to action.
Call to action.
Call to action.
Call to action.
The world is not going to get better all by itself. You are part of the story. Get to work. Amen.