Last night, I was driving my daughter to a birthday party when we passed a fire station. In honor of September 11th, there were literally hundreds of flags on display. ‘It must have taken them a long time to put out all those flags,’ she commented. ‘Tomorrow, they’ll have to pull them up and put them away’. There are anniversaries, and then there is the day after.
It’s been a season of anniversaries. I mentioned in an earlier post that I celebrated my 14th wedding anniversary on September 6th. This weekend, I reflected on multiple anniversaries; it 15 years ago that the towers came down in NYC and it was one year ago that a pillar in my life became a little shaky, shall we say. It was on September 10th that my mom went to the ER with abdominal pain, only to find out that in the ensuing hours that she had Stage 4 cancer. I can hardly bring myself to go back and read those CaringBridge posts from the early days; it was and still is, so scary – I could not wrap my mind around losing one of the greatest towers in my life. But, I am relieved and incredibly happy to report that my mom has responded well to the immunotherapy treatment. She is not cured, but she is alive, and she is inspiring me with the way she has approached life in the days after her diagnosis. She fights but she has peace. It is a motivating combo…to be resolved and yet surrendered.
Not all anniversaries are sad. This weekend, I got to celebrate a friend’s 40th birthday. As we sat on the patio at the Rosewood Hotel, looking out over the mountains, we went around and shared a special memory related to the birthday girl. Let’s all be honest for a moment: often, we are going through the motions as we commemorate a day or a person. But, what made this exercise meaningful was the multiple stories of how this gal had quietly shown up in someone’s life, to be a pillar in a time of need. There were accounts of her single-handedly unpacking an entire house when a friend was 9 months pregnant…or caring for kids when another was with a husband in the hospital. Actually, come to think of it, I think she helped two friends unpack after a move! We can talk about hands and feet – she’s them.
Being married to a Singaporean for over 14 years, I’ve gotten an up close and personal view of Chinese culture. One of the things I’ve learned, is that they tend to be less verbally expressive than Americans. Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate this commitment to not just saying the right thing but DOING the right thing. Or (since it seems everyone is copying this phrase), another way to put it would be:’Your word is your bond’. Quick aside, the origins of this phrase are actually in the Bible, when Moshe says to the tribes of Israel: “When a man … swears an oath to bind his soul with a bond, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.” More recently, the phrase garnered an entirely new meaning during the slave era. According to Rachael Ferguson, an ethnographer and professor from Princeton University, the principle “word is bond” allowed merchant traders in the late 1500s to make agreements legally binding before the advent of written pledges. Your word was as good as a contract. But, I digress.
My point is that actions matter and words should not be meaningless. When these ladies gathered, their words were full of emotion and gratitude because they articulated a truth we already knew, and now merely repeated in order to bless this friend on her special day. But, this is not always the case. We may ask first responders to stand in our church services on 9/11, and we swear to never forget, however, reality is that it was an uphill battle to secure passage of the Zadroga Act, Federal legislation intended to provide health monitoring and financial aid to sick 9/11 workers. In fact, for a long time, the hashtag, #WorstResponders was trending online in response to congressional resistance; even celebrities like Jon Stewart went to testify, in order to essentially bring attention to and shame legislators who opposed the bill.
Yesterday, our pastor talked about the distinction between ‘Christian’ and ‘Disciple’, pointing out that the word ‘christian’ appears only 3 times in the Bible while the word ‘disciple’ appears 269 times. The best synonym for disciple would probably be apprentice. To be an apprentice implies work and commitment – it is more than a label.
Fun fact about me: I play the flute. When I was in 5th grade, at Grove Avenue Elementary School (go Grayhounds!) in Barrington, IL, I joined the band. I was lucky enough to live near a lady, who was a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and editor of Flute Talk magazine. I became her student, her apprentice. And, I can assure you that you cannot bullshit your way into being a good flutist. I remember, she used to make me play with big chunks of carrot between my back teeth, so I could learn how to keep my mouth open – not fun, especially after several hours of practice. Even attending Chicago Symphony concerts was did not make me a musician, although they were fantastic for inspiring a young flutist like me. You had to commit yourself to the trade. You had to embrace the carrots. It was more than a title – it was a life.
All of this leads me to believe that THE DAY AFTER is almost more important than the DAY OF. You see, it is the day after the birthday party that we get be a real friend who shows up to help with a move or take care of a sick kid, even when it’s inconvenient. It’s the morning after the candlelit dinner when we acknowledge love is hard but we vow to daily recommit to cherishing one another. It’s the day after a diagnosis when we find a new way to live. It’s the day after the concert we get out the carrots and tuner, and spend hours practicing. It’s the day after the parades, when we are putting away the flags, when we decide whether to be there for our national heroes, the way they were there for us. It’s the day when we decide whether we are content with a label or we want to be an apprentice. It’s the other 364 days that make the one day matter. That’s not to say that parties and memorials and ceremonies are bad; it just means that they’re that they’re that much more meaningful when our word is our bond…and, we actually know what that means.
Here’s to September 12th.