Keep Moving Forward

Our family on a hike in the Shenandoah mountains in 2002. For me, being out in nature is like being in church!

“Come and be with me, I can’t be alone!” I was responding to this plea, with five kids in the van, driving off Andrews Air Force Base to sit and wait with my friend Lucy, until she could hear that her husband was safe. I was dialing John’s cell phone to check that he had not gone down to the Pentagon on this day.

“Don’t leave the base,” he said, “you will not get back on easily once you leave!”

“Too late, I have to go,”I answered, “what is going on?”

“We don’t know. Something bad happened at the Pentagon.”

As I hung up the phone, my heart racing, I heard the announcer on the radio say that people were hiding under their cars at BWI airport. There was a no fly order issued, yet the air was filled with aircraft. I had heard them scrambling off the base. People were cowering in fear over our own fighter jets. What was happening to us?

With this one act of terrorism my entire world was turned upside down. Nineteen years later it is still painful to think about. It still feels like a punch to the gut.

This week I had a couple of conversations with family members about the time surrounding September 11, 2001. It was an unprecedented time of crisis for the nation, but it negatively affected every aspect of the daily lives of the military families.

My friend Lucy’s husband was able to give her a call and find a way home. Our friend Joe Pycior, who was my son Tom’s scout leader and a friend from church, sadly did not. It was my daughter Katie’s 8th birthday and we had planned to take her out to dinner. (It was a big deal back then to have your parents to yourself for a restaurant dinner!) Those plans and many others were cancelled or put on hold.

We lived that day and the days that followed with a lot of fear and uncertainty.

Hmmm, does this sound familiar? World upended, check. People dying, check. Plans cancelled and put on hold, check.

This week I have been re-hashing those post-9/11 times, wondering if they hold some wisdom for me as I struggle with moving myself and my family forward in these uncertain times.

While the feeling of the world being in chaos is quite vividly the same for me, there are some obvious differences. In the days after the terrorist attacks on Washington, my friends and I gathered in backyards and playgrounds as we tried to make sense of things while the kids played. We were shell-shocked, but we were shell-shocked together. Our tight knit military community became even closer as we united and worked things out.

The new normal for me then involved long hours of solo parenting as my husband was at work for an extended time each day. There was a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty, but we were able to network among the other families and find support for every lack. The military wives plug their own holes.

Today, as I try to navigate this life during the chaos of the pandemic, I often times feel I am not able to lean on friends and our community to get through. We have been told to isolate. I am having trouble finding traction on the road; there is so much to steer around, so many potholes and so few traveling companions!

At first I thought that the differences between the two situations were too many, and it was just my bad luck to go through two major crisis times during my parenting days. But as I talked with my son John and his wife Katie yesterday, I realized that I can remember and learn from those days.

Katie reminded me, “Good food is important, mom!” And she is right. Our family is obsessed with cooking and eating, good, nourishing food. We talk about it all the time when we get together. We share recipes and swap cooking success stories ( and failures!). Enjoying good food with those you live with is also good for the soul. We nourish our hearts as well as our bodies when we eat together. We were careful to do this in the days following the terrorist attacks and it helps us these days too. Lesson #1, eat well!

Living on an Air Force Base after 9/11 left me a bit anxious (this is a complete understatement). I visited our family physician and asked him about ways to combat the stress I was feeling. He suggested that I just, “Go for a walk!” I took his advice and I have never looked back. My neighbors noticed my dedication to walking and often commented how devoted I was to my fitness routine. “This is for my mental health!” I would quip, “It keeps me from killing someone!” (which was closer to the truth than I am comfortable remembering!). I have maintained the habit of walking almost every day. I am grateful that I have, it helps, it really does! (And I haven’t killed anyone yet!) Lesson #2 Exercise every day!

The final thing I realized after talking to my kids these last two weekends, is that I can still lean on my family and friends to get me through. I just need to be more creative about it. We can’t gather in each other’s houses, but we can gather outside on the trails, in the back yard, or on the front porch. What is important is the sharing of stories and the bouncing of ideas back and forth. It is healthy to see fresh faces and hear someone else’s perspective. I need to hear how everyone else is dealing with this crazy life we are living. It helps me to bring in to focus how I should be living my own! Lesson #3 Connect with those I love and trade stories!

I am trying hard each day to find a good place to settle within myself. I am weighing my options and assessing risk. I am embracing each chance I get to do something normal, even if I have to do it with a mask on. I am leaning on the wisdom of the things I learned during those terrible days in September 2001. It is that wisdom and the hope of a healthy world to come that propels me through this day and into the next.

My hope is that in a few years I will be able to look back at these times and be able to say that they are painful to think about, but we persevered, we Ate, Exercised and Visited our way through them.

I’m thinking though, that these days too, will be remembered like a punch in the gut.

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