9/11

“I still have the shoes I wore to work that day.
The soles are melted and they’re caked in ash.
I keep them in a shoebox with the word “deliverance” written all around it.
They’re kind of like my ark, a reminder of God’s presence and the life I owe to him.”

Stanley Praimnath, 9/11 survivor

It was a day ripe with a cloudless clear blue sky.

The kind of deep blue sky that beckons one to look up..
to look up and far beyond…

It was the second week of September.
Labor day was behind us and fall-break was over a month away.

But there was something about this day, this bright blue day,
that made me stop and pause.

Since it was just before the end of my planning period, I had walked over to our vocational
wing in order to pick up some copies I had run off for my upcoming class.

On the walk over between the two buildings, I caught myself looking up.
Looking up and noting the brilliance of such a beautiful cloudless blue sky.

It was still very summer-like in Georgia despite the calendar reading September 11th…

I walked back into the main building just as the bell was ringing for class change.
I reached the door to my classroom in order to monitor the hallway as the kids
traversed up and down, in and out.

One of my colleagues, a coach who also taught Social Studies down the hall from me,
suddenly came sprinting by my room stopping long enough to tell me to turn on my
television because “we were under attack!”

I can remember asking him to repeat what he had just told me.

“We’re under attack, they’ve attacked New York and now they’re attacking Washington!”

“WHAT?!”

As the kids were filtering in, I ran to turn on the television because
I really wasn’t comprehending what I had just heard.

As everyone began to trickle in, we gathered around the wall-mounted television
just staring at the images taking place in New York.

I remember hearing one of my girls announcing to no one in particular that her dad was
currently on a plane to New York…she needed to call her mom.

Needless to say, the day’s work and lessons were long over before they even began
as we were now in the midst of a tragic moment of our Nation’s indelible history.

That cloudless blue September sky changed our lives that day.
It changed our entire world, forever.

My colleague and friend who had stopped to tell me the tragic news would not live to see
the end of the next school year.
He was unaware that on that most fateful of days, the cancer that was multiplying inside of him,
was insidiously at work.

So much was changing, so much had changed.

It seems almost surreal, but today we have generations who were born well after
the fateful day of change…they are actually unaware that we were, that we are,
now different.

New York
Washington
Pennsylvania

Planes
Buildings
Fields

Simple names of states.
Simple names of things and places.

Yet all these years later, nothing remains simple about them.

Nearly 3000 lives were lost that day.
Many more lives were damaged.

Since that fateful day, many more lives have been lost due to the caustic air
inhaled as responders toiled to find the ashes of remains hiding in between the ashes of debris.

And then a war ensued.

And thus more lives have been lost and damaged.

Yet some people have the audacity to claim that the terribleness of that day was simply our own fault.
Some people think it really matters not that we should even take pause to remember.
Some people think it’s no big deal.

And yet on that day, lives ended.
Dreams were broken.
Hearts were broken.
Lives changed.
We changed.

And so yes, it is a big deal.
It was a horrific day of what seemed like a day of unending change…
and thus, in turn, we are now bound to forever remember…

Because the important thing today is that we must never forget why we have changed
and why all of those broken and shattered lives still matter.

Because if we do forget…if we allow our memories to fade…
then the pain, the suffering, the hurt that was felt by so many,
can and will actually return…

Such sweeping and tremendous pain mustn’t be allowed to ever return…

And so on this 11th day of September, we collectively gather to remember…
as we continue with our healing…
vowing that this will never happen again.

Our country is strong:
These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat.
But they have failed. Our country is strong.
A great people has been moved to defend a great nation.”

Former President George W. Bush on Sept. 11, 2001.

where lies your dependency?

Lord, what are human beings that you care for them,
mere mortals that you think of them?
They are like a breath;
their days are like a fleeting shadow.

Psalm 144:3-4


(Atlanta’s interstate fire and collapse courtesy CBS46 Atlanta)

There were so many titles for today’s post….
“Atlanta is burning…again”
“The domino effect”
“Catastrophe under, or is it of, the road”
“S’mores anyone
as the camera would then pan to a sea of stopped cars stranded for hours as
they waited to be literally turned around and rerouted from one of the nation’s busiest
interstates.

If you haven’t yet heard, Atlanta was on fire, again, Thursday.

I say again because if your history lessons have failed you,
you may recall that a certain General T. Sherman burnt Atlanta to the ground
as a Christmas gift for President Lincoln during the Civil War.
And that is now the reason as to why the mythical creature the Phoenix is Georgia’s
sacred state bird…that is, besides the brown thrasher.
For the Phoenix is a symbol of how a smoldering Southern city rose up from the ashes
to become a major US metropolitan megatropolis…
along with the world’s busiest airport,
and a horrific gridlock of interstates….
but I digress….

Our son called late yesterday afternoon asking if we knew Atlanta was on fire.
He had seen this during his commute home from work.
We flipped on the television, and sure enough, Atlanta was on fire…
or more exactly a large swarth of area underneath a section of I-85 near Piedmont Rd,
what is known to locals as the Mid town area….
If you’ve ever driven north or south through Atlanta, you’ve driven over this stretch
of road.

This was a Thursday evening, at rush hour.
The interstate in both the south and north bound lanes were shut down as the fire
raged.
The heat so intense, a large section of the interstate buckled under the strain and collapsed–
which may have been a good thing as it helped to snuff out much of the inferno.

And miraculously, no one was hurt.

Still not certain as to the actual cause….
But what is certain, a major US artery is now shut down for travel for who knows how long.

Listening to the various news stations and the reporters who,
as everyone watched in real time, first the fire then the collapse,
gasped in obvious overwhelmed amazement.

What would happen with all those cars now stuck?
What would happen in the days to come?
Where would all the traffic be rerouted?
What about Atlanta’s notorious Rush hours?
How much longer would it now take to get to and from work?
What about all the soon to be Spring Break travelers headed south to Florida?

On and on the mounting panic became palpable as a million questions flooded
the thoughts of everyone….

I had to drive over to Dad’s today to meet with the funeral home in order to gather up
some needed papers and documents.
It was not a pretty picture as traffic was rerouted over to my usual route….
bypassing around the city.

There had also been an early morning crash just this side of the Georgia / Alabama state lines
shutting down all of I-20 east bound. That swarth of interstate closed until late afternoon.
Meaning more rerouting, with all that traffic, with an endless line of tractor trailer trucks,
being rerouted again, to my particular route of travel….
and I have to go back today….
sigh….

And with all this burning, collapsing and rerouting nightmare…it’s all gotten me thinking.
Thinking of our dependance upon our own limited abilities and vision…

Our world, the world in which we, man, has created is so tenuous and superficial.
Yet we assume and even take for granted that it is invincible.
Our massive buildings, our sprawling shopping meccas, our spaghetti maze of roadways,
our expanding bridges, even our modes of travel…
all seemingly built to last…
That is…until there is a bizarre or freakish event of catastrophic proportions…
which in turn sends us, much like ants, scurrying in an endless state of pandemonium.

There are no guarantees.

I can vividly recall watching the aftermath of the 1989 earthquake out in San Francisco…
the quake which collapsed and sandwiched the 880 interstate,
crushing and trapping both cars and people.

It was a horrific reminder of our fragility.
Just as each catastrophic earthquake has been in recent months in central Italy.
Centuries old buildings reduced to instant rubble in the blink of an eye.

It matters not the disaster…
It matters not if the victim be historic, modern, structurally sound or state of the art..
Nothing that we put our hands to, which we arrogantly assume is built to stand the test time,
will in turn do just that…last to kingdom come…
All will eventually give way to ruin…

For all of our ingenuity, our hutzpah, our try, try again mentality and and our plain
ol good intentions..
none of it will last….
for it will all pass away, just as we shall pass away to the very dust
from which we were formed in the hands of the Creator…

Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils
the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

Genesis 2:7

Show us the way oh Lord. . .

“Others have seen what is and asked why.
I have seen what could be and asked why not. ”

― Pablo Picasso

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(a statue of Christ on the Charles Bridge , Prague, The Czech Republic / Julie Cook / 2012)

What is it that sets us apart form the other creatures on this planet our ours?
Other than that opposable thumb business?

What is it that makes us greater, wiser, better. . .?

Is it perhaps our ability to be compassionate and kind?
Perhaps to reason and analyze?
Or is it is our capacity to be creative. . .that ability to dream, to imagine, to think and therefore to compose, to construct, to paint, to sing, to sculpt, to dance and to build. . .

The ability to even take that which has been ruined and destroyed, even by our own hands, and to remake, rekindle and renew. . .?

I had not intended to have such a serious minded post again this week but it appears that forces beyond my control thought better of my initial decision. . .

Today’s news is laced, once again with the heinous beheading by ISIS of another innocent bystander–another victim to their ravenous thirst for innocent blood. This time it was an 82 year old Archeologist taxed with preserving and saving the ruins of Palmyra.
It seems they held this gentleman for the past month, torturing him in an attempt to discover where the vast treasures of this ancient, and to some holy, site were hidden. He never shared that information with his captors, who knows if he even was aware of hidden treasure, so it was another case of “off with their heads”. . .

Here you may find a link to the full story as found on the BBC . . .
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-33984006

In Charles Kaiser’s book “The Cost of Courage” which I shared in yesterday’s post, Mr. Kaiser retells the story of the Vichy Parisian Mayor, Pierre-Charles Taittinger who, following the invasion of Normandy which was the telling realization for the Nazis that their time of Occupation in Paris, as well as all of France, was drawing dangerously to its finale, approached the Nazi’s high commander, General Choltitz, with his final plea for the Germans to spare the city.

It was well known and documented that if Hitler had to relinquish the City of Lights back into the hands of the Allies, then they would not receive a city at all but rather one that had been razed and burnt to the ground. Every bridge crossing the Seine, as well as every monument from the Eiffel Tower to Napoleon’s Tomb had been wired with explosives. The fleeing German troops were to detonate and burn everything in their wake as they left the city.

Monsieur Taittinger implored the General one last time:
“Often it is given to a general to destroy, rarely to preserve,” Taittinger begins.
“Imagine that one day it may be given to you to stand on this balcony as a tourist, to look once more on these monuments to our joys, our sufferings, and to be able to say, “One day I could have destroyed all this, and I preserved it as a gift for humanity.’ General, is not that worth all a conqueror’s glory?”
The General replied, “You are a good advocate for Pairs. You have done your duty well. And likewise I, as a German general, must do mine.”

History tells us that the General was wise enough to know that by now Hitler was indeed a madman and that the war, with the Soviets now advancing from the east, was all but over and that it would not serve the furture of Germany, whatever that further may now hold, to destroy what the French held so dear. There is more to the story, a series of interventions and seemingly miraculous moments which spurred the Allied forces to march upon the city in the nick of time, but I suggest that you read that story on your own as it makes for fascinating reading.

When the church bells rang out echoing across the city, with the deep baritone bells of Notre Dame leading the way, sounding the joyful news of the liberation of Paris, the General was heard to say, “that today I have heard the bells of the death knell of my own funeral. . .” He had sent the troops out from the city with having detonated only the bombs of one of the train stations.

What is it about our splendors and our glories, those monuments we construct, build, make and craft from generation to generation. . . those tombs and treasures we hold so dear and so ever important? So much so that we feel the urgency and need of being tasked with their care, their maintenance, their upkeep and their eventual preservation?
Is it because we see that these manmade wonders are some of the tangible evidence of the better part of our nature? That despite our ability to destroy, to kill and to promote war. . .deep down we know that we strive for the good, the beautiful and the enduring?

These wonders of ours link us to our past civilizations. These monuments of glory, grandeur and beauty of both joy and sorrow allow us to see from where we have come, and in turn we are afforded the opportunity to show future generations the part of us which is better, kinder, gentler, more humane —that side which chose to give rather than to take?

So on this day, when another has fallen victim to a dark and evil menace spreading outward from the Middle East, I am left with the simple prayer, “Oh Lord, show us the way. . .”

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(Duomo di Milano / Milan, Italy / Julie Cook / 2007)

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(The Bascillica di San Antonio / Padova, Italy / Julie Cook / 2007)

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(Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore / Firenze, Italy / Julie Cook / 2007)

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(Basilica Papale di San Francesco / Assisi, Italy / Julie Cook / 2007)

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( Basilica Papale di San Pietro / The Vatican / Roma, Italy / Julie Cook / 2007)

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(stain glass windows in The Basilica of the Holy Blood / Bruges, Belgium / Julie Cook / 2011)

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(Notre Dame / Paris France / Julie Cook / 2011)

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(détail, Notre Dame / Paris, France / Julie Cook / 2011)

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(Eiffel Tower / Paris, France / Julie Cook / 2011)

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(the cross that sits atop the Eagles Nest or the Berghof overlooking Berchtesgaden, Bavaria which was once Hitler’s private mountain retreat / Julie Cook / 2013)

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(St Stephens Cathedral/ Vienna, Austria / Julie Cook / 2013)

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St Vitus Cathedral / Prague, The Czech Republic / Julie Cook / 2013)

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(Rose window, St Vitus Cathedral / Julie Cook / 2013)

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(A section of the Berlin Wall / Berlin, Germany / Julie Cook / 2013)

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(a section of the Berlin wall / Berlin, Germany / Julie Cook / 2013)

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(The Brandenburg Gate / Berlin, Germany / Julie Cook / 2013)

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(The interior of the new German Chancellory, the Bundestag / Berlin, Germany / Julie Cook / 2013)

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Exterior of the Bundestag / Berlin, Germany / Julie Cook / 2013)

The Shadows of our Illusions

If time is not real, then the dividing line between this world and eternity, between suffering and bliss, between good and evil, is also an illusion.
Herman Hesse

Progress is not an illusion, it happens, but it is slow and invariably disappointing.
George Orwell

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(a western setting sun reflected from one of the many skyscrapers on the Nashville skyline / Nashville, TN / Julie Cook / 2015)

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(Nashville skyline at dusk / Nashville, TN / Julie Cook / 2015)

Man creates, builds and constructs.
Why?
Because he can.
Always bigger, always taller, always grander. . .
Why?
Because he wants to be bigger, taller and grander than the next guy. . .
Endlessly seeking that which is exquisite, beautiful and spectacular. . .
Why?
Because he looks to fulfill a longing. . .
For what is it that man so longs. . .?
Man longs to fill a void. . .
An emptiness of that which is greater than man himself. . .
A void of that which is Divine
Why is that?
Could it because man longs for that part within his being that is open, unfulfilled and yearning for something which he simply cannot recognize as greater than himself. . .
and so he makes, he creates, he builds, he looks, he longs. . .

The Great Disturbance of Our Illusion
The idea that there is something eternal and infinite makes our souls anxious in their mortality.
They want to reach beyond themselves to immortality;
they themselves want to be immortal but know not where to begin. . .
Out of this disquiet of the soul have come the mighty works of philosophy and art:
The systems of Plato and Hegel, the Adam of Michelangelo,
the quartets and symphonies of Beethoven, the Gothic cathedrals,
the paintings of Rembrandt, and the Faust and Prometheus of Goethe.
They were all overpowered by the idea of something eternal and immortal. . .
At the same time, the most grandiose and delicate of all human
attempts to strive for the eternal out of the heart’s anxiety and restlessness is religion. . .
Human beings have found the way to light, to joy, to eternity.
The human race could proudly point to the flourishing of its spirit,
were it not for one thing namely, that God is God and grace is grace (Romans 11:6).
Here comes the great disturbance of our illusions and our blessed culture, the disturbance that God himself causes and that is made graphic in the old myth of the tower of Babel. Our way to the eternal was interrupted, and with our philosophy and art, our morality and religion, we fall into the depths from which we came. For another way had penned up, the way of God to humanity.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Barcelona, Berlin, Amerika 1928-1931
I Want to Live These Days with You