Fourteen years ago I was in my kindergarten classroom reading a story to my children when the Principal stepped in and caught my eye. I excused myself and went to her, only to hear her say she expected parents to start arriving shortly to gather their children. In a quiet voice she then conveyed that the U.S. was under attack and that the Twin Towers had been hit. News was still coming in about the Pentagon and Pennsylvania and officials in many major cities, including ours, were on high alert. It was not impossible to think Chicago could be a target. We’d been in class less than an hour.
I asked if she could finish the story with my children to which she said yes. My infant son, then just 5 months old, was in the school nursery a building away. I ran to his room and found him sleeping in a swing overlooking a window with a view of a bright Chicago day. I cradled and kissed him and told him that I loved him while he slept, and I prayed over him before I left.
And then I went on with my day. I had twenty-four children waiting on me, oblivious that anything in their otherwise sunny world was wrong. We had snack while parents trickled in. We played with Legos, practicing our counting to twenty and naming our colors. We wrote our names and practiced our spelling. Time passed, every second feeling more like an hour, until the school day finally ended. It was somewhere along the drive home I realized the skies above the Windy City were silent.
When I arrived home, I ran to the television only to be bombarded with images of devastation. Pain. Anguish. Loss. Desperation. It was too much to watch yet I couldn’t turn away. Disbelief. Doubt. Anger—they swamped me. I was safe. My husband was safe. My son was safe. But our homeland, this country I adore, was anything but safe.
While it felt like time stood still on September 11, 2001, life was taking place all around us. I love you’s were spoken for the last time. Promises of I’ll call you later would be broken. Harsh words were left hanging between loved ones that could never be resolved. Goodbye kisses were shared without hint of being final. And scores of selfless men and women laid down their lives for others. I believe the best and worst of humanity met that day and that the battle still rages. It’s not a battle of race or religion or color or privilege or geography. Rather it’s the classic good versus evil. Darkness versus light.
There are times I feel that same fear and anger I felt coursing through me fourteen years ago. As the events taking place in our world unfold, I often find myself shaking my head, disappointed we haven’t come further. Then I’m reminded that darkness can’t drive out darkness. Only light can do that.
We have a purpose far greater than staying trapped under the weight of our fears. We’re called to be the light of the world and now more than ever we really need to shine.