One of the most emotional days this past year for many Americans was the 10th anniversary of the attacks on September 11. I hadn’t planned to write anything about the commemoration, but doing a triathlon that very day inspired me. It reminded me that often the ability to keep going is the only salve for grief, and that I feel less vulnerable if I’m A Moving Target.
I was a little down in the mouth last week, dealing with some health problems, fatigue, missing people, trying to get back in my routine, and tired of days of watching rain fall and the sun refuse to shine. The only time I felt better was when I was plugging away at work. Friday afternoon I had a spectacular crying jag, the kind that makes you think you might never cheer up, even though at that point the sun had come out. I was seriously stressed and ailing, and there was no end in sight.
Oh, and I had a triathlon this weekend.
Yesterday my mood was better for a number of reasons, even though I still wasn’t particularly enthused about the race. My first triathlon had been the culmination of a summer of intense – and intensely fun – training, and this summer training felt like a chore. Like a whiny teenager, I avoided chores a lot of the time and didn’t feel very well prepared. Still, I had paid my registration fee and didn’t want to waste it, so I hoisted my bike on my car this morning and showed up for the race as planned.
The swim was warm and smooth. I felt in control as I snaked through the other competitors to try to get an edge coming out of the water. I barely kicked at all, leaving it all out there, pulling through the water so hard it almost hurts to type. The bike, as usual, was a disaster, since I don’t really enjoy it nor do I train enough for it, plus my rear tire was nearly flat the whole ride. The bike to run transition was what I had really trained for, so I didn’t struggle too terribly as I embarked on the hilly trail run that wraps up the course. I almost fell twice, but for me *almost* falling is a small victory. As I pushed into final stretch I felt someone sprinting up next to me. I started sprinting too. I beat her. In all my years of racing that has never happened. I high fived my close competitor at the finish, smiled for my mom’s disposable camera, and realized I felt better.
When terrorists attacked ten years ago I was a senior in college. I was (unsurprisingly) involved in music ministry at school, and we went into overdrive. There was a huge prayer service replete with “Amazing Grace” just a few hours after the attacks, and there were liturgies on multiple campuses that night at which I sang. We were dashing all over the place. In the middle of the basketball arena that evening I led “On Eagles’ Wings”. That song has never done much for me, but I will always remember really feeling that what I was doing mattered, that there was a possibility I was offering someone comfort at a time they desperately needed it.
The next day I went to my part time job working the early early shift at a local coffee shop. One of my regulars came in and we exchanged our usual banter. He said as he was leaving “it’s great that you can just go on working and living after something like what happened yesterday”. I don’t think I said anything in response. It had never occurred to me not to go on. To this day I’m not sure if there was censure in his voice.
I am a worker. I find solace in accomplishment. When life calls us to live with a new normal the key word there is to live. The day I found out I had lost some family members I was scheduled to sing all day – and that’s what I did. I had a mass, a coaching, a rehearsal, and audition (which, thankfully was not recorded. That post-crying-fit rendition of Come Scoglio is safely lost to history). I needed to keep moving to remember who I was. Maybe part of me believed the lie that the world can’t come crashing down on a moving target.
In the ten years since the world came crashing down I have learned that I sometimes need to slow down, that who I am is not defined by what I do or what I’m good at, that I won’t lose everything if I just relax for a while, that people love me even when I’m not accomplishing things. But I haven’t lost that drive that tells me to keep going.
I know it’s trendy to say “Never Forget” on a day like this, but I don’t think there is any danger of anyone forgetting. It is a beautiful tribute to hear the stories of those killed on this day, and to memorialize them at the site of the attack. They shouldn’t ever be forgotten. But I refuse to turn into a pillar of salt, looking back and looking back until I forget which way is forward anymore. Maybe a sister motto to “never forget” would be “keep going”.
We never know what we can accomplish in the shadow of tragedy and gloom. We finish races, we sing songs, we write, we teach, and in the course of it we remember even while we’re looking forward. The stories we remember from September 11, 2001 are those of action – people rushing into buildings, calling loved ones, even taking down attackers. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe a moving target can be hit, but I’m not quite sure it can be destroyed.