Wow. Today was a big one. Long (we got that extra hour of sleep in consolation for the upcoming winter), and a benchmark of sorts. We made our first high school visit today for LB. Yes, for those of you reading who went to public school, like myself, this was a high school visit. You see, LB has been attending Catholic School since he was three. When I was a youth minister, and LB was starting his school career, 9/11 happened.
I was driving through my favorite coffee shop on the way to work after dropping LB and a tiny little 10 month old JD off at the sitters. Cirque was but a pea in the pod, with about 4 months to go, when I heard on the radio about the first plane hitting the twin towers. I had already ordered but was not yet at the window to pay when the news came over the airwaves. As in any historical moment, I felt the stillness of world. It was like the earth stopped rotating or something. But I was still expected to pull forward in the drive-thru line, which seemed at that moment one of the most absurd things in the world to be doing, in light of the immensity of what had just happened. I was still processing it in my brain when I shared it out loud with the young man who handed me my coffee. He seemed stunned, but neither of us had yet grasped the entire reality of what was happening.
As I drove the remaining 20 minutes to work on the freeway, every mile that went under the wheels of my car felt like a moment of suspension, but I was still moving, and the news was still coming through the speakers with more details of the horrors: people running from the building, all over the city, like a science fiction movie about the end of the world.
I got to my office finally, but instead of going out to the old convent where I worked, I headed into the religious education office of the school. The stillness of the school children felt like a brick wall into which I had bumped. The usual hustle and bustle of the morning announcements and children getting to their classrooms was absent. Hearing the TV broadcast from the hallway, I ran into the RE office to find many staff members standing in disbelief before the television. Some were crying, some were asking questions, many were silent, but all had the same lost expression, eyes wide open, mouths ajar…heads shaking. We watched precious souls fall from the sky like tears down a cheek, plunging to their deaths before millions of viewers. desperation. Disbelief.
That following Sunday was one of the first youth group meetings of the year. My heart was in my stomach because I knew it would be a rough night for the kids. I knew I had to toss my plan for the night, and try to tackle what seemed like a steep mountain of reason and hope in the face of the despair that now plagued our country. What would I say?
We had decided that year to move youth group into the gym for practical reasons. The commons area was needed for eighth graders, and I was more than happy to have a larger space for youth group activities. Divine providence spoke once again in my ministry, as that night was the largest youth group attendance we had ever had. There were over 100 kids that night, all seeking answers, seeking hope and innately seeking their God.
By a poll of hands, I asked which of the kids were still struggling with their faith in the face of the tragic incident. About 30+ kids raised their hands. I noticed many of these kids were my leadership team kids, most of whom either were attending a Catholic High School, or had a solid family life of prayer and teaching of the Catholic Faith in their homes. Upon further questioning, many of the youth who did not have their hands raised, offered that they did not feel consoled or hopeful. They felt lost and disappointed because their high school teachers were told not to discuss faith in answering questions from the kids in response to the situation. A few of the teens said that they felt comforted because their teacher broke the mold and said in secrecy, surely taking a great risk, that they know God is where to turn in these situations.
That night I drove my usual 50 minute commute home. This was usually my special time of prayer, talking with God about the night with the kids. Many times I laughed at things that had happened, many times I beat myself up for the dumb things I said or did, or a way I may have failed one of the kids (yes, I am usually kind of hard on myself). But this particular night, I made myself a promise. My kids would always be somewhere that uses God at the base of its institution. The cornerstone that was rejected by the public school systems would remain the founding block of our family life and the school where I chose to send my kids. My kids would go to Catholic Schools. I want my kids to be reminded that prayer is how you start and end your day. Prayer is how you live, breath, and come to know Christ. The most Blessed Sacrament of Jesus’ body and blood is where you get your food for life. Mary, my mother, will watch over them because I ask her to, and she loves her son like no one else could. She takes us to the foot of the cross and says to us “All ye that pass by the way…Look and see…no one knows sorrow like my sorrow.” (Statue of Our Lady of Consolation, Carey, Ohio). She watched her only son AND her God, die in her arms. She was holding these victims of 9/11 in her arms and taking them to her son. I want her to hold my babies in her arms, every day, every minute, everywhere.
So today we visited our first Catholic High School. I heard one faculty member say all the things I wanted to hear. He used words like “brotherhood” and “kindness” and faith being “masculine” (it is an all boys’ school). Tears stung my eyes as I thought about those amazing kids I had the privilege of ministering to, and many of them went to this school. They knew how to pray, how to stay late and help clean up without being asked, how to show kindness to the least of their classmates, and how to have joy. I want that for my kids, and I know that it begins and ends at home. But if the majority of their waking hours are spent at school, when any number of things can happen, at least the bottom line is reinforced. God will always be our bottom line.