Where were you? Hide your eyes.

Life is full of those “do you remember where you were and what you were doing when….” moments. I have no recollection of the assassination of President Kennedy, but I was watching television – while playing on the floor as a child – the morning that Lee Harvey Oswald was killed. I don’t remember the Kennedy event, but I remember great running and crying of the adults around me. Running and crying.

I remember very well where I was on the morning of 9/11 as it was happening. I remember folks running around the office to find televisions and turn them on and try to get some sort of a decent signal in our non-networked building. Those memories and how I felt weren’t as strong to me as a few minutes I spent with a good friend of mine – just recently passed – who was in our office on business that day. She was a New Yorker. A native of the City. A saw with her a few minutes with her, staring in shock at the television. There was nothing to say, no conversation necessary. We sat in silence and watched the TV. That memory – that moment of off-business bonding with a business associate – that is the one that has stuck with me over the years.

Fast forward 14 years to the recent anniversary of the date. Everything is still fresh and raw to our memories, even after a decade and a half, it’s almost as if it happened last week. Almost. It is a day that we believe – and teach to the next generation – will live in infamy. There were moments of silence all around the country. There were tributes. There were readings of the names of the dead, as if we had been to some great war, and now in solemnity we remembered our fallen comrades and kin.

This 14th anniversary is likely one I will remember because when all the anti-celebration was going on, I overheard something that stopped me in my tracks.

At the time, I was on my way up the elevator at the Duke Cancer Center for my 3rd (of 4) chemotherapy infusions. That has nothing to do with the story other than explain where I was at the moment. In the waiting area for infusion patients, there are two large televisions on either end of the long room. The one nearest to where I walked in was tuned to ESPN and their coverage of the day. The sound was low but it was easy to see from a distance that their cameras were in New York City. I walked off the elevator at 8:45 that morning which was 2 minutes before silence fell over our country. In the rush to get to the Cancer Center, I had forgotten the significance of the date and time, until I heard bagpipes and drums on the TV.

stephen foster - american song writerThe song was an old Stephen Foster tune from the time just before the American Civil War, called Hard Times Come Again No More. The theme is very much what you expect: things are terrible here, maybe the worst we have seen. These are the Hard Times. And having recognized the hard times and how terrible it all is, with the weak and weary fainting all around us – go away. Don’t come back. It’s as if Foster is saying that even in that huge division in our country that our countrymen will move on beyond that loss and that terror, and will build another America, better than the one we have before.

It’s an interesting analogy to apply to the events and after-events of 8:47 am on September 11.

I felt the need to cover my eyes.

Not from fear or shame. What comes to mind in moments of great prayer like that – even in musical prayer of a 19th Century parlor song – what I feel then is that need to pray, to concentrate on my prayers, and to be very contrite in what my prayer is saying.

In the Hebrew tradition, when they say the greatest prayer of all prayers, it’s necessary to cover one’s eyes to avoid distraction and to fully concentrate on the conversation with their G_d. That prayer is the Shema.

Hear, O Israel              Shema Yisra’el

The L_rd is our G_od    Adonai Eloheinu

The Lord is one!          Adonai ehad

– Amen

I’ve seen the prayer many times and the practice has stuck with me in my own moments of contrition. I began using the rubric in the time that I most need to concentrate on what I am saying, and on what is happening as I say it: the Confession and Absolution.

I feel the need to not only shield myself from distractions and to stay on track with that prayer, but at the same time to be so very sorry for the mis-deeds I have done (or not done) that it is necessary for me to hide my eyes away in humility, as I come to my own Great Spirit to ask that I be given yet one more chance to do better.

[…] for the things I have done – and left undone – I am heartily sorry and I humbly repent [….]

The key word there is heartily. I am sorry beyond any words that I can say, yet You know my heart, and let it call to you my great sorrow.

At the end of this particular Christian version of confession (there are many), it’s good to recall one of the most-remembered passages in the book of Matthew:

Call upon me, all who travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you. (I will give you rest.)

So there I was, getting checked in and getting my beeper for when it’s my turn to go to the next step, trying to stand, wanting to close my eyes, and knowing for sure: look around because that moment will stick with me, even as memory and circumstances fade away on other, less important things. I cover my eyes and share the sadness. I open my eyes and demand that hard times will come no more.

Keep the faith!

– Amen




Hard Times Come Again No More
by Stephen Foster (1854)

Let us pause in life’s pleasures and count its many tears,
While we all sup sorrow with the poor;
There’s a song that will linger forever in our ears;
Oh! Hard times come again no more.

‘Tis the song, the sigh of the weary,
Hard Times, hard times, come again no more
Many days you have lingered around my cabin door;
Oh! Hard times come again no more.

While we seek mirth and beauty and music light and gay,
There are frail forms fainting at the door;
Though their voices are silent, their pleading looks will say
Oh! Hard times come again no more.

There’s a pale drooping maiden who toils her life away,
With a worn heart whose better days are o’er:
Though her voice would be merry, ’tis sighing all the day,
Oh! Hard times come again no more.

‘Tis a sigh that is wafted across the troubled wave,
‘Tis a wail that is heard upon the shore
‘Tis a dirge that is murmured around the lowly grave
Oh! Hard times come again no more.

*Stephen Foster – “the father of American music” died in poverty on January 13, 1864 at the age of 37. His worn leather wallet contained a scrap of paper that simply said, “Dear friends and gentle hearts”, along with 38 cents in Civil War scrip and three pennies


Alone in the Dark – a meditation on fear

There is much to be afraid of. Yet even so, there is more that we need not be afraid of, even when it’s scary. Some times other folk lead us to believe that we should fear some thing or some act. Some times we convince ourselves. Think of it like the grown-up version of a child afraid of darkness and night. We are afraid in the darkness because that is when the monsters are all around.

Eventually – with no small amount of practice – we learn to move away from that fear, however large or small. We have the added strength of our friends all around us. Or we live in a safer place than we did before. Or we learned that what we thought was so scary before was just … wrong. We grew up.

In your darkest night,
walk always by faith, not sight.

The prophet Isiah wrote:

When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you.
And though they are rivers,
They will not overflow you.

When you walk through the fire,
you shall not be burned.
Neither shall the flame kindle upon you.

For the Lord said, “I am your God, and
I will help you in your time of trouble.”.

That last line doesn’t say that “I will bring you out and put your feet on dry land,” or “I will fix everything that is wrong in your life.” The author says “I will help you,” and sometimes it is up to us to discern what that help is.

No faith system promises a free ride. They all require a bit of 2-sided work. In this case, at the time you are so afraid, the help will be there. It is up to you to discern the manner in which the help will arrive.

And so it is also up to you to not hold some sort of grudge against God if every item on your blessings shopping list isn’t granted exactly as you wanted.

Don’t be afraid of the great darkness in your life that you needn’t fear. Sometimes the help won’t some in the way of an open door to walk out, but rather as the candle to see the door on your own.

Keep watch in the dark moments and dark corners of your life. Keep the faith!

 – Amen



Confidence Within the Incomprehensible – a prayer

The LORD says, “Call me and I shall answer you, And will tell you great and unsearchable things of which you know nothing.” (based on Jerimiah 33:3)

God of Goodness:

Our prayer is often very poor.
But still, you hear the call
that rises up
from deep within us.

And even if we do not know
how you answer it,
we are confident of this:

You always send us
your Holy Spirit.

 – Amen

Keep the faith!