It was May 1978, and I was just as happy as a young boy could be. You see I was on my way to my grandmother’s house in Springfield, VA. It was a long car ride from Pennsylvania, but I knew at the end of that ride, I would be rewarded with some of Grandma’s signature homemade oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Eating one of grandma’s cookies was like being wrapped in a warm blanket delivered straight from heaven. Nothing in this world compared to that feeling. It is still, in my mind, one of the greatest feelings in the world. Grandma isn’t around to make her cookies anymore, but I will always be able to carry the memory of eating her cookies with me. Her cookies were baked with love. You wouldn’t see that on the recipe, which she took from the inside of the top of a Quaker Oatmeal cylinder, it was something grandma added, and it was what made her cookies great. So, every trip to grandma’s was always something to look forward to.
This particular trip would prove to provide even more memories than I understood at the time. When we arrived, My Uncle Jimmy, who is about 7 years older than me was outside in Grandma’s yard playing kickball with his friends from the neighborhood. He invited us to play. How awesome to get to play kickball with the older kids? Man, I love kickball! So we played and played and we had a blast, until someone kicked the ball into a grove of bushes that lined the side of Grandma’s house.
The group of boys surrounded the bush and began to look for the ball. There was an urgency about us, because every moment we had to spend looking for the ball was a moment that brought us closer to dinnertime and to the end of the kickball game. I was the smallest, so I spent my time looking underneath the bushes on the ground. That is when I saw it! I was going to be the kickball hero who found the ball and got the game restarted. I climbed under the bush, and grabbed it. There was only one problem. What I grabbed wasn’t the kickball. What I grabbed was a nest of NOW very startled, and very angry hornets. I was under attack with no way to fight back. Fortunately, I lost consciousness fairly quickly.
When I awoke several hours later, my mother and grandma were tending to me. I was ok, albeit a little worse for the wear, but I knew that I was going to be ok. The same love that Grandma put in her cookies was surrounding me at that moment and I knew that everything would be all right.
It would have been easy to be angry that day. Angry at the hornets for attacking me, angry with myself for being so foolish, but I wasn’t angry. I had learned some valuable lessons. One thing I learned was to be a little more cautious when I am trudging through what could be someone else’s home. The other thing I learned is that when I fall down, there are people who love me that will help me back up. It was a long time ago, but I always remember that trip to my grandmother’s–I carry it with me still today.
Fast forward, to September 2001. I was living and working in New York City. Fall in New York City is always beautiful and I was looking forward to walking through Central Park as the leaves transformed from the bright greens of spring to the reds, yellow, and oranges of the autumn season. Fall, to me, is also like a warm blanket delivered straight from heaven.
This fall would prove to be a little different though. On the morning of September 11, I woke up to startling news. We were under attack. Someone had flown a plane into one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York. Several minutes later, after watching the first building begin to smoke, a second plane hit the other tower. It was terrifying to watch the events unfold and realize that it was happening just a few miles from where I was standing in my apartment on West 109th Street.
Then the first tower fell, and soon the second would also fall. I could not believe my eyes. Then came the news that a third plane had hit the Pentagon. I had grown up in the suburbs of DC. Both of my homes were now, apparently under attack.
Processing this news was not easy; it is still difficult to comprehend, to try to make sense of it.
Much like the ordeal with the bees when I was a boy, it was an attack from, seemingly, out of nowhere. It would have been easy to be angry; to feel abandoned by God. Where was God? Why had God allowed this to happen? But I find that while I may never know the answer to those questions, I do know where God was after it happened. After the hornets, God was there in the form of the love from those who had helped to pick me back up.
The same was true of the aftermath of September 11. God was there; you need only open your eyes and see. The nation came together to help each other deal with the pain. We proved the words of the Pledge of Allegiance. We were “one nation, under God, indivisible.” In those days after September 11, I was amazed to see how much love and compassion was in the hearts of my neighbors.
I had learned another valuable lesson, that love and compassion had been there all along, but perhaps we had not recognized it. We had taken it for granted. I had taken many things for granted in my life. I had taken my grandmother’s cookies for granted. I had taken the love of my family for granted. I had taken living in this nation of freed
om for granted, but I, and the rest of our country all learned that day, that we should be a little more grateful for what we have. That we should not take what we have for granted.
As we look around at the heroic deeds of our neighbors in Houston and in Florida in the wake of these two recent hurricanes,
I urge you to see God’s love in the people who are helping each other get up from their fall. I urge you to be the type of person who approaches tragedy with love and compassion. It is easy to look at trauma or tragedy and get angry, but I urge you to look at tragedy or trauma and find God’s love instead of anger.
As we sign the honor pledge today, I urge you to think about the honor of the brave men and women who helped each other up from the fall. If you see someone make a mistake this year, rather than hold him in contempt or anger, be there to help him recover. That is what a community does. Let’s be a community that helps each other and love’s each other. In my view, that is what honor truly is.
“Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.”