Sunday, October 29, 2006


Security is mostly superstition. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. – Helen Keller

I’ve always been the kind of person who jumps in the deep end to find out if I can swim. This is because I believe that the universe is pretty much on my side. But as I grow older and more vulnerable, fears have been creeping up on me.

On September 11, 2001, I was late taking Sam to school. We were listening to the news as the towers were hit. I thought at first that this was some kind of hoax, like Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” broadcast. But Sam’s school is not too far from O’Hare International Airport and the absolute absence of planes in the sky overhead was an eerie confirmation of what I was hearing on the radio. We sat in the car outside the school and listened. And sat. And listened. And sat. And listened. Until finally it dawned on me that I was apparently not going to get out of the car. I looked at the school across the street and thought about how treeless the street was, how vulnerable it looked and how far away from our home it was located. And we turned the car around and went home. If the world was about to end, I wanted to have my son beside me.

I didn’t think I was overly affected by the attacks. They were tragic and shocking and five years ago. Right? This September when all the news was about the 5-year anniversary of the attack, I realized that he hasn’t gone to school on September 11 since. This hasn’t been conscious on my part. Underneath my calm exterior lurks a terrified woman with a calendar who tells me my son’s got a cold every year on September 11.

Sam is so vulnerable and being his mom makes me vulnerable. He is never going to be independent and I don’t trust anyone else to really take good care of him. So I can never die. And yet, my body is beginning to show signs of wearing out. I have no plan for how to care for him after I die. This is not because I haven’t looked into options; it is because there ARE no good options. I can’t die or get sick. That’s all there is to it. And yet, of course, I will.

I thought my father would live forever. When he was in German POW camp in 1944, he prayed to God, “Please don’t let me die here. Please let me live to be 40 years old.” So in 1964, he went through a deep depression because he thought his time was up. And he didn’t die. He thought, “Maybe God misunderstood. Maybe God thought I meant I wanted to live another 40 years.” So he took another look at life and in 1968 my baby brother was born. Then as 1984 approached he went through another deep depression. He decided he didn’t have much time left to live, so he divorced my mom and decided to take one last stab at finding happiness. And didn’t die. By 2004 he told me, “I think God has lost my paperwork.” I thought so, too. He had at least two kinds of cancer, emphysema, and diabetes. He’d survived an aortal aneurysm and had a host of other issues and continued to not only live, but also research and publish. Although he could no longer go out into the desert to look for fossils, he continued to be held in high regard by a whole generation of younger paleontologists. He was unstoppable.

Then the morning of January 5, 2005 two drug addicts hired by a couple of drug dealers, broke into his house and brutally put an end to my superstition about my invincible father. The drug dealers knew my 82-year-old father because they were also roofers and he had invited them in for coffee and a discussion of possibly doing some work on his patio roof. One of them had returned several times to do odd jobs and help out around the house. My father gave them a tour of his large museum of a house, pointing out significant pieces in his collection. I can hear him do it. “This fossil is particularly valuable. It is a microtine rodent from Siberia.” “Valuable” is a relative term. The market value of a mouse tooth is pretty nil.

But drug dealers and addicts are not very clever and they murdered my dad for a house load of beat up Navajo rugs, mouse teeth and Nazi memorabilia. And my life shifted again.

A few months later, our roof started leaking and we had to have some roofers fix it. I spent the first day cowering in a corner of my living room certain that they were going to murder me. After the first day, I made a point of not being home, but it was months before I started sleeping again at night. I was sure they were coming back to murder us in our beds. My husband said, “They aren’t the SAME roofers.” But that wasn’t very helpful.

I stayed home for about a week after that stuff in the news about the guy who killed all the little Amish girls. If you aren’t safe in an Amish schoolhouse, where ARE you safe?

Good question.

Here’s another: What does “Trust in the Lord” really mean if you can’t trust God to keep you safe? And clearly you can’t trust God to keep you safe. My life is a bed of roses compared to most of the people in the world. What are they trusting God to do for them?

The universe is not necessarily on my side, God might not keep me safe. Do I still want to jump?

What are the alternatives?

well that pretty much lays out what I want to work through for the next four or five years.

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