Monday, May 30, 2011


It is a sordid tale of child molestation, alcoholism, spousal abuse, negative self-image, warped religion, self-mutilation, unhealthy relationships, murder, adultery, teenage pregnancy, lost faith, and rape.   

Is it the latest runaway hit mini-series on HBO?  Maybe a particularly difficult-to-comprehend passage in the Old Testament? 

Nope.  It’s a book recommended by Oprah. 

I didn’t know exactly what kind of expectations I had for Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald.  To be honest, I know that most modern and post-modern literature is full of “revelation” in the form of sexually explicit language, illicit encounters, and horrifying skeletons in the closet.  The only difference from author to author seems to be the style of prose used.  The blurb inside the cover revealed that it was a story about four sisters haunted by a terrible secret.  That turned out to be true (warning: this review does contain spoilers), but there was no triumph over the secret, as I had hoped. 

Okay.  I know I am approaching this novel from a distinctly Judeo-Christian viewpoint, not - as I learned in college - a Freudian, feminist, or Marxist viewpoint.  So, already, maybe my expectations are different than the average reader.  For example, while I acknowledge that child molestation does occur and it is a terrible crime against man and God, I don’t think that it needs to be graphically described for a reader.  Because my faith colors my interpretation of all I encounter, I generally try to find the good in things.  I admit I lean towards cynicism more than I should, but I strive to see something worth admiring in all art, music, literature, film…people.  When considering something like this novel, that striving to see the good is definitely at odds with my faith.  The only thing I found remotely redeeming in this book was the style of writing.  Ms. MacDonald does write with a slightly musical, at times tongue-in-cheek prose that was enjoyable, if the story itself was not. 

And what of the story?  In a nutshell, (and, trust me, this is a bare-bones nutshell) a 16-year-old boy elopes with a 13-year-old girl in British Canada in the early 20th century.  They have four daughters, one of whom dies an infant, and one who ends up unintentionally inspiring her father’s lust.  He rapes her, impregnates her, and her mother kills her while saving her twin babies’ lives.  One twin dies, accidentally drowned by his sister/aunt, who is six years old at the time.  The father then molests the six-year-old daughter.  The mother kills herself three days later, and the oldest surviving daughter steps up as the matriarch of the household.  The father begins bootlegging alcohol and the community members shun him and his family.  The daughter who accidentally drowned the baby grows up to be a stripper, cold-heartedly seducing a family man into impregnating her, and is then forced to give up her child to an orphanage.  The youngest girl, who is the daughter/sister of the slain daughter, grows up having visions and nightmares of her dead brother.  She is given the diary of her mother, learns that her mother had a lesbian lover in New York City, and goes to find and live with that woman, a jazz musician.  The oldest sister grows up a bitter spinster who abuses school children.  The stripper dies, but her forgotten son reunites with his aunt/sister and learns about his bizarre family tree.  He nearly throws up.  The end.

…how is this in any way inspirational or encouraging?   

It’s twisted and sick, and that’s just the plot.  What was even more disturbing to me was the utter lack of healthy relationships, any understanding whatsoever of religion or faith (all of the characters who professed to have any kind of faith were portrayed as gross caricatures, or as possessed by violent religiosity).  There were absolutely no healthy, strong male characters in the novel.  The main character was a child molester, a criminal, and an incestuous rapist.  The beau of the second daughter ends up dumping her after getting another girl pregnant.  The girls’ grandfather disowns them and treats his wife and daughters unkindly.  The seduced man, although good at heart, allows himself to be deceived by a sixteen-year-old tramp.  The tramp’s cousin kills his own father.

So, then, I thought that maybe this book was recommended by Oprah because of the strong female leads.  I considered them.  There was a 13-year-old girl who got married, sunk into a deep depression, then killed her daughter.  Her daughter was an arrogant singer who engaged in an illicit lesbian affair and willfully deceived her parents.  Her oldest sister was overly religious, a self-destructive martyr who grows up bitter and powerless.  Her younger sister breaks out of the family by stripping at her cousins’ seedy bar and seduces a man whom she knows has a happy, healthy home life.  Her youngest sister/daughter is manipulated by everyone who desires nothing more than for her to redeem the family.  The lesbian lover poses as a man and starts a band, running away from, rather than coming to terms with her familial problems (including a drug-addicted mother). 

Are these women to be admired?  They are no more worthy of being role-models than any of the male characters are.  In fact, though I desperately searched for a character or even a shred of a character that I could cling to as decent or good-willed, I could not. 

This novel actually gave me bad dreams. 

What was the author trying to say?  That the sins of the father are birthed in his children?  That our lives are pre-destined, looped in an endless, futile circuit of attempted escape?  That villains are revealed in our mirrors each morning?

I have no idea. 

Granted, I devoured it in about five hours because I desired to know how the story would conclude.  Would the wicked father get just punishment?  Would any of the daughters break free of their father’s curse and wind up in healthy relationships?  Would any of them encounter a good male - or female! - role model?  Would any of the characters find genuine solace and comfort in religion?  Would any of the characters forgive themselves or each other? 

Nope.   Basically, the dad gets away with everything, ruining his daughters' lives.

I know that, in real life, loose ends are not always tied up in neat little bows in order for us to move on or make changes.  If art mirrors life, then, yes, there should be many books, plays and symphonies that end unresolved, with lovers fighting, with a dead body, with a warped family tree. 

But the kind of art that comes with no humbly offered solution, either injected subtly between the lines, or played out in trumpets across canvas or page, has no business being a part of my library. 

I threw the book into the trash the night I finished it.

I was torn about posting this blog.  I truly wanted to use my writing to inspire and uplift, and so I did not want to use it to really cut anyone or anything else down.  But I realized that I still have every right to share what I have learned from a negative experience.   What I learned has nothing to do with the author herself, or even She Who Recommended It.  It's about being more careful about the things I choose to do with my time.  It's about wasting less of it, and engaging in activities - including reading books - that build me up, rather than weaken or distress me.  I wish I had learned much earlier in my life that it's not just about surrounding ourselves with things that bring life, joy, and health.  It's about avoiding things that don't.

I need some fresh air, so to speak.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Four-Legged Surprise

Two weeks ago, as I was snuggled up in bed, Ross burst into the room, grabbed a shirt and a flashlight, then ran out the door.

I have been married to him for eighteen months now, so I rarely question his behavior.  I returned to my reading as the thunderstorm raged outside.

Fifteen minutes later, Ross returned to the bedroom.  

Holding a kitten.
"...what's that?" I asked, as what I was seeing was not properly registering in my brain.

"'s a kitten," he replied with a lop-sided grin.

"I know that," I was able to choke out, "...but why is it in my bedroom?"

"It was crying outside the basement window.  In the rain."

The poor thing was still shrieking like a feline banshee, all grey and white and soggy and shivering.  It clung to Ross's chest for dear life as I approached it.

"We'll take him to the Humane Society first thing tomorrow," I declared as I bunched up my bright pink robe to dry it off.  I grabbed an old shoebox, stuffed in a towel, and we wrapped the screaming little thing up to keep it warm.  With nowhere else to put it, we stuck the box in the bathtub, popped open a can of tuna, added a dish of water, and turned off the light.
"Meoooowowowow!" it sobbed.

The next morning, when we went to gather up the kitten, it had not moved a single inch.  It was still wrapped up exactly as it had been eight hours before.  The tuna and the water remained untouched.  It hadn't even pooped.  I kinda felt bad for it.  It was so tiny and so scared.  Every time we approached it, it panicked and hissed.  It never moved to scratch us, but I attributed that to the fact that it was literally petrified stiff.  Poor thing.  We nicknamed it Thor, since it came to us during a thunderstorm.
The Humane Society opened its doors at ten on Sunday morning, so, unfortunately, we had to miss church to take the kitten in.  Once there, we learned two things: that Thor was not, in fact a girl kitty (like we had guessed), but a boy kitty, and that, due to his slight sniffle, young age (about five weeks), and weight (under two pounds), they could not guarantee that they would not euthanize him.  Apparently, if he had a respiratory infection, he would get all the other cats sick, and based on his weight, he was too little to send out for foster care.  The tech we spoke with, Erin, was very friendly but very honest about his chances for survival there as she did a once-over of the mewling kitten.

While Ross asked about a cat's general health care needs, I watched the tiny grey striped kitten panic in Erin's gentle hands.  We couldn't take this kitten home.  No way.  We were allergic.  In fact, as a surprise two weeks before, Ross had conspired with one of my co-workers and brought home an absolutely gorgeous female kitten he had named Simone.  After I got over the shock, I fell in love with her, then proceeded to have a violent asthma attack.  I even got hives on my lips where I had kissed her perfect little furry forehead.  I felt horrible when Ross had to drive all the way back to Washington to return her to her litter-mates.

Plus, we didn't know the first thing about raising a kitten.  When I was a child, we had three cats, but they all came to us as strays, and my mother was the one who took care of them.  I just pulled their tails and cried when they scratched me.  Years ago, Ross had been given a crabby old Maine Coon cat named Oliver and he despised the thing.  The feeling was mutual, as Oliver eventually stowed away in Ross's parents' van and then ran away.  To an Amish farm.  No joke.

Ross had nearly wept with joy.

So, you see, we're not cat people.

Plus, we were about the leave for vacation the following week, and we didn't know who could possibly take care of the kitten.  My dad could, of course, but his idea of "taking care" of cats generally involves shotguns and target practice.

No way would we be taking this guy home.

Ross turned to me with vibrant blue puppy-dog eyes and said, "I don't like the idea of knowing he may not make it, especially when what he has is treatable."

The kitten came home with us.

Just until we could find a "buyer", so to speak.  Another co-worker had expressed an interest in adopting a kitten, as had one of Ryan's friends.  So, regardless, the kitten would not be headed back to the shelter and, possibly, to his death.

Within a day, he was eating wet food and pooping in the litter box.  Within two days, he was very carefully exploring his surroundings, tending to hide awkwardly behind radiators and under chairs.  I kept waiting for the inevitable allergy attack, but it never came.  Ross and I were a bit more sniffly than usual, but that was it.

Within three days we had determined that we weren't getting rid of him.  A family from church, who live close to us, agreed to take care of Thor during our trip.  He was the absolute darling of the veterinary clinic just minutes (mercifully!) from my house.  Plus, the vet determined that there wasn't much wrong with him other than fleas and worms, which we had already expected.  He is due for booster shots next week.

His first bath was a traumatic experience for everyone involved.  No photographic proof exists.  It's better this way.

He has already learned how to climb stairs, perch on top of his scratching post, attack my leopard-print slippers, eat dry food (although he doesn't like it), hide behind everything with at least 1/2 inch of clearance, and chew on my toes.

My personal goal: to train Thor, the mighty Thundercat, how to eradicate the home of centipedes and stink bugs.

This will be good.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Every Story Has a Beginning

Inspired largely by my favorite movie, this now-classic short musical, my artsy and talented sister-in-law Lindsey, my ten-year-old-boy-stuck-in-a-man's-body husband Ross, and his ten-year-old-boy-stuck-in-a-man's-body best friend Ryan, I am finally sitting down and pounding out my own superhero saga.

Like many children, when I was younger, I dreamed of having superpowers.  My mom taped (yes, on VHS!) the late-night reruns of Batman for my sister and me, and we'd watch them after school the next day.  My favorite villain was Vincent Price as Egghead.  Well, I liked Catwoman, too.  Classy lady.  As I got older, I took countless online tests comparing me to the X-Men (I always came up as Jean Grey, by the way). I designed my own superhero outfit.  I wrote myself into my favorite action, adventure, and science fiction stories and movies.  

Unfortunately, none of that translated into physical activity, and so I was a pudgy, pale-faced, wheezing kid with dreams of grandeur.  

At least I could write.

And I still can.

When Ross and Ryan get together, they rarely talk about their college days (they were in the same fraternity at Grove City).  They don't talk much about video games (Ryan's not really into that) or partying (Ross's wild oats are all dead).  They talk about comic books and superheroes.  I, of course, being nosy and possessing a great deal of superhero soap-opera knowledge from my youth, dislike sitting back and letting the boys play, so I'm in on those chats, too.

Ryan's favorite is Superman.  Ross likes Wolverine.  I am a fan of Batgirl.  I mean, if I had to choose.

I wonder.  There are tests to determine which superhero your personality is most like, but are there tests to determine what your favorite hero says about you?  Talk about psychoanalysis.  Ryan: split-personality disorder.  Ross: mean streak.  Becky: insomniac.

At any rate, I have been playing with a plot for some time now.  I have the characters themselves in my mind, but I am still hashing out the details: how did they get their powers?  How are they dealing with them?  What are they doing with them?  Are they going to wear costumes?  If so...who makes them?  Tights or no tights?  These are important questions, people.

They will soon, I hope, be answered.  Stay tuned until next time...same Bat Blog...same Bat Website!  (Are you hearing the 60's theme song in your head right now?  Good.  My work is done here.)

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Everything Old is New Again

...including retro "fashion".

And I am totally a victim.

I was all about it about 6 or 7  years ago, when the 40s and  50's looks were coming back.  You know: towering heels, flattering skirts and dresses.  All the prom gowns and casual dresses looked like something out of a Hollywood movie.  Glam, a little flashy, but mostly classy.  Looked good on us curvy girls.  Yes and amen to that!  Then, a couple tears later, the paisley prints and loose sheath dresses of the 60's and 70's returned.  I could handle that, too.  Paired a shift dress with calf-high boots and a sweater, heck, that wasn't so bad.  Still work-appropriate, and I preferred dresses to pants, anyway.  Plus, the colors were great: bright teals and Deep Purples.  (Heh, heh.)

Then, about 2 tears ago, the 80s threw up all over the fashion industry, laying waste to the wasp-waisted, dainty-print daydresses of my fantasies.  Day-glo colors popped, band logos sneered, and suddenly, I was not alone in wanting to sport this t-shirt.  Now, I've been an advocate for 80s music and movies for a long, long time (mostly fighting passively-aggressively against my husband, who harbors a mild dislike for all things 80s...except Star Wars and Indiana Jones, of course), but the clothes?  Ouch, ouch, ouch.  I avoided them the first time around.  Leggings, huh?  Ripped sweatshirts?  Flat shoes? No, no, no!  I wore boys' jeans in the 80s because there were no designers who understood that young girls might want to wear pants that weren't skin-tight.  I wore clogs.  Oh, God, I wore clogs!  I am just realizing that now!  They were CLOGS.

And, yet...

Maybe it's because of my experience in the costume shop at Clarion, working with women (and Bob) who knew exactly how to dress people in the most flattering way.  Maybe it's because I spent so many years trying to look like everyone else that I finally got sick of it.  Maybe it's because I have an addiction to clothes and shoes.  Maybe it's because I am in a place where I realize - and accept! - that I will never be a size 4 who can't fill out an A cup, slinking around with a wispy waist and mile-long legs.  Maybe I am slowly realizing that what I look like - and what I wear - is not the greatest part of who I am, but merely an expression of it.  Maybe it's because the old adage, "don't knock it 'til you try it" keeps ringing in my head.  Maybe it's because I have a number of beautiful friends who don't meet the "ideal" for perfection, and who dress how they want because it makes them feel pretty.  Maybe it's because I have a husband who genuinely likes the way I dress, whether I am rocking rumpled hair, a flowing bohemian skirt and flip-flops or a belted sheath dress with four-inch heels and super-shiny lip gloss.

Maybe there really isn't a reason.  But I laid down my arms.  I said I'd wear them only to work out.

I bought a pair of leggings.  Then I bought two more pairs.  Then I bought some gorgeous flowing tunics that can only be worn with leggings.  And I don't wear those to the gym.  I like the leggings.  They are comfortable.  If worn with the right top, they make me look thinner.  Without shapewear.  Really.  Hallelujah and long live the legging!

Well, 80s, it looks like you won this round.  Just don't bring this hair back, ok?   Oh, and skinny jeans and white lipstick: you also have no chance with me.

Character Study: Ruth

I got the opportunity to share this short teaching at my church's Women's Encounter God weekend.  The theme was "The Bride of Christ" and there were many great lessons on brides, wives, and marriage during our time of fellowship.  I worked with two friends, who bookended the lesson about Ruth with one about Naomi (and how God turns bitterness into joy) and one about Boaz (also, about Jesus as the kinsman-redeemer).  I hope to eventually share more studies about women in the Bible, but this is all I have at the moment.  I  hope you enjoy it!

Ruth: Faithful and Obedient

The people of Moab were born of the incestuous relationship between Lot and his oldest daughter (Genesis 19:37).  Like most other Middle Eastern tribes, they worshiped many gods, the leader of whom was named Chemosh, to whom the Moabites sometimes sacrificed children.  This is one of the gods to whom King Solomon, influenced by his pagan wives and concubines, would later build a temple. 
The Bible tells us that the Egyptians and the Moabites had fairly friendly relationship, as they shared a common ancestor through Jacob’s son Joseph.  However, probably because of that relationship, the Moabites committed the sin of abusing the Israelites as Moses led them out of their captivity in Egypt.  Because they did not greet their distant cousins with food, drink, and encouragement, instead attempting to curse and harass them (Numbers 22:6-8), they were punished by being excluded from the assembly of worship for ten generations (Deuteronomy 23:3).  Some of their women seduced the Israelites, and enticed them to worship their gods.  This brought a terrible plague upon the Israelites.  The Lord specifically stated to his people at the time that they were in no way to encourage the well-being of the Moabites, although they were prohibited from making war upon them (Deuteronomy 23:6).

It was out of this culture that a woman named Ruth was born.  We know very little of Ruth’s origins, other than she was likely raised a pagan like the rest of her tribe.  Somehow, she and her fellow Moabitess Orpah caught the eyes of two Israelite brothers, Mahlon and Kilion, whose father had died and whose mother was named Naomi (Ruth 1:3-4).  This family had traveled to Moab to avoid a severe famine in their homeland of Judah, and they brought to Moab the knowledge of the One True God of Israel, Jehovah.  Although they were far from their people, far from the tabernacle and the altars, there must have remained in them some devotion to the Lord, for how else could Ruth have fostered a desire to know more about the Hebrews’ unseen God?

We can imagine Ruth, maybe in secret, quizzing her husband about his unusual religion.  His God required sacrifice, but prohibited images of himself (Exodus 20:4).  His God appeared as a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night (Exodus 13:21).  His God was too holy to allow His face to be seen by his own chosen people (Exodus 33:20).  His God parted the waters of the Red Sea so that his children and all their flocks could escape the chariots of Egypt (Exodus 14:22).  In short, his God was fascinating, and the complete opposite of her gods!  Her gods were wood and stone, and silent.  She gave much to these gods, and received nothing in return.  Perhaps Ruth had asked her husband to someday take her see his hometown of Bethlehem.  We don’t know.

What we do know is that both Mahlon and Kilion died in the land of Moab (Ruth 1:5), and that Naomi, deeply saddened by the loss of her sons, purposed in her heart to return to Bethlehem alone and bitter (Ruth 1:8).  Here we see the first glimpses into Ruth’s shining character, and one of the characteristics that would help her lead an exemplary life: she was FAITHFUL.  She could easily have remained in the land of her birth, where she had better chances of remarrying or, at the very least, returning to her home and the protection of her kin.  After her husband’s death, there were absolutely no legal ties binding her to Naomi.  Yet she made the vow: “Where you go I’ll go.  Where you stay, I’ll stay.  Your people will be my people.  Your God will be my God.”  (Ruth 1:16)

In Bethlehem, Ruth is able to demonstrate that faithfulness through her dedication and work ethic.  She immediately takes on this difficult role of a gleaner – a position reserved only for the lowest of the low in Hebrew society (Ruth 2:2).  Although it was a mandate given by God to prevent abject poverty (Deuteronomy 24:21), gleaning could result in humiliation or harassment, especially for foreigners.

Yet Ruth put aside any fears she may have had in order to fulfill her promise to help support Naomi.  She worked in the field of Boaz for many hours with little rest (Ruth 2:7).  This dedication quickly aroused the interest of Boaz, Naomi’s kinsman, who was impressed enough to make provision for Ruth’s protection even before he knew who she was (Ruth 2:8).

The other quality that Ruth possessed in abundance was OBEDIENCE.  Be careful not to mistake “obedience” for “slavishness”.  Ruth was not blindly subservient to all who held positions above her in life.  Obviously, this was not the case, or she would never have developed her own ideas about following after the God of Israel while inside the borders of a pagan nation!  Ruth made wise choices regarding who she trusted.  She knew that Naomi, for example, would not give her foolish advice, and that Boaz, through his actions, was gentle and generous.  Ruth understood to respond only to the people who wanted her to succeed and flourish.  She put her trust in these people and sought after their fellowship and wisdom.  We, too, need to put our trust in the One who knows our faults and failures, yet who loves us enough to encourage and lift us up.  Ruth had every opportunity to crumble before the anxieties and uncertainties of her future.  She was entering a foreign land – of which she was an enemy – with no real means to take care of herself, with nothing more than a bitter mother-in-law in tow!  But she was determined to be faithful and obedient, and God allowed her good deeds and kind heart to draw others to her like a beacon.

Even before she meets Boaz, he has the opportunity to hear of her kindness to Naomi, his kinswoman, and he is openly impressed with her actions (Ruth 2:11).  And what did Ruth see when Boaz summoned her from the fields?  Although we might imagine a dashing young prince carrying the heavy sacks of grain for the delicate Ruth, chances are good that Boaz was an older man – shall we call him “distinguished”?  A younger man would not be as likely to possess the land and wealth that Boaz is said to have had.  At any rate, he was well-respected in Bethlehem for more than his treasures.  Boaz would have been a fine catch for any charming young Hebrew girl, but he was unmarried.   

When he first saw Ruth, I wonder…what did he think of her?  Was she a stunning, exotic girl with eyes like jewels and a bewitching smile?  Or did his heart leap with pride and wonder when he realized that in front of him stood a young woman brave enough to leave all she knew in order to protect the mother of her dead husband?  Regardless of Ruth’s outward appearance, Boaz immediately viewed the tenderness and strength of her heart and saw it as beautiful. 
Did he love her right away?  Did his admiration and respect for her grow as she worked in his fields tirelessly for an entire summer to supply food for herself and her mother-in-law (Ruth 2:23)?  When did Naomi first notice the blossoming relationship between Ruth and Boaz?  Did she suddenly witness it in a glance, or a smile, or had she been expecting such a miracle all along?  Did she joyfully praise God when she realized that, with Ruth cared for, her bitterness had come to an end?  She must have!

Imagine the emotions Ruth must have felt when Naomi explained to her how to present herself to Boaz for marriage (Ruth 3:3).  Her heart must have been pounding wildly as she bathed and perfumed herself, trying to enjoy the rare ritual.  Over and over in her mind, as she dressed in her finest linen, she must have walked through the steps Naomi gave her.  Over and over in her mind, she imagined the perfect scenario – and a thousand worst-case scenarios, too.  What if Boaz did not understand her intentions?  What if he did, and rejected them?  What if he refused to marry a widow?  What if he refused to marry a Moabite widow?  Although her faith had carried her from Moab to Bethlehem and into the fields of Boaz, would it carry her into his arms as well?

She need not have worried.  The unseen God of the Hebrews was as faithful to her as she had been to Naomi.  Boaz agreed without hesitation to marry her and provide for both her and Naomi (Ruth 3:11); delighted himself that Ruth chose not to seek out a younger man to marry.  The final hurdle – another, closer relative who had the rights to marry Ruth and inherit Elimelech’s property – was hardly an issue at all, and Ruth and Boaz were married.  Soon, Ruth bore a son and called him Obed, meaning “servant or worshiper”.  What a perfect name for the child of two servants who found love and redemption through God’s gifts of obedience and faithfulness.

Ruth and Boaz would continue to receive blessings – and give them – long after their deaths.  Obed grew up to be the father of Jesse, who would grow up to be the father of David…from whose lineage came our kinsman-redeemer, Jesus Christ.

Ruth’s obedience and faithfulness actually played a role in your salvation.  What can your obedience and faithfulness do for others?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Ten Years Later

I was twenty years old; I was at Clarion University.  I was crossing the campus, headed from my dorm, Givan Hall, to class at the theater building, Marwick-Boyd.  I cut through the student center - probably because I was lazy - and saw on the television the image of a burning building.  The newscaster was saying that a plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers.  I continued on my way to class, thinking it was a shame that such a mistake could happen.  Those are the distinct thoughts I remember having: "such a shame."

Once I reached the lobby of Marwick-Boyd, I could tell that they had all heard the news, too, and that something else had happened in the seven minutes that it took for me to walk from Gemmell to the Boyd.

Something about another plane.  Something about the Pentagon.  Something about people dying, and a terrorist attack.
It may have been the first time in our collective lives, but all the theater kids were silent as we gathered in the main office, sitting on the floor and barely breathing.  The story unfolded painfully, leaving our minds open to horrible possibilities and fears.  Jack, a native New Yorker, had gone completely ashen and didn't speak for most of the day.  Amy was crying.  Katie was crying.  I was anxious, and scared, and angry, and confused, and I was cold all over.

When I heard about the plane in Somerset County, I had to fight back tears.  My dad was a truck driver, and that area was where one of his routes was located.  I borrowed a cell phone from a friend (it is so hard to imagine a time without one; but it was, after all, ten years ago).  The first time I dialed my dad's number, I couldn't get through and I panicked.  I started to pray.  I tried again and he answered.  "Daddy," I cried, "Are you okay?"  

"Yes, sweetie, I'm fine."  

"Are you in Somerset?  I heard on the news - " 

"No, honey, I switched runs with another guy this morning."  

"Is he okay?!"  

"We haven't heard from him yet..."  A pause.  "Keep praying.  I don't know what's going on right now, but it's really bad stuff.  We gotta pray."

I did just that, leaving the rest of my peers and finding a quiet place in the building. I prayed.  I prayed in tongues, I prayed in English, I didn't even know what to pray.  I just kept praying "Please help."

Later, we learned that my dad's co-worker was perfectly fine, but he wasn't working too far from where the plane crashed.  Later, sitting the living room of a classmate, I wrote a poem about exactly what was happening.  What Bobby was saying as he sat in the chair across the room.  What Meghan looked like.  What I overheard on the news.  Words spilled out in a discordant song.  A symphony that sounded like fear.   A year later, I wrote another poem, calling it "Anniversary".  And now, nearly ten years later, I write this.

Those of us who saw the smoke billowing, heard the screams, saw the firefighters going in, kept seeing the image - repeated over and over and over - of the plane crashing into the Tower - cannot forget.  It is to my generation what the assassinations of Kennedy and King, Jr. were to our parents.  The 9-11 attacks were the same crime, in essence, as those murders, perpetrated by the same attackers - people full of hate, jealousy, and condemnation.

For years, when I heard a plane overhead, my heart stopped.  Even now, when I look in the sky and see a low-flying craft, I pause and hope everything is functioning properly within the plane - and the people aboard.

In the darkest places of my mind, I could anyone, regardless of race, religion, or beliefs - find joy in such abject terror, death, and destruction?  Surely, the feeling of power alone must compensate for the guilt.  It must overshadow the responsibility for taking thousands of lives and leaving hundreds of thousands more dealing with heart-wrenching grief.  The idea of teaching Americans a lesson must have been more important than those American children having parents alive to raise them.

Although I don't believe any good was intended to come of the attacks, I believe that much did.  I believe that much more good came than the attackers would have wished.  I wish I could believe that, with the death of bin Laden, that even greater good would come, and that the killing, altogether, could stop.

I am not a pacifist.  Please know that.  Nor do I condemn any American for his or her role in the death of an internationally-wanted terrorist.  Our military did what it promised to do, and the people who died horrible deaths - and the families they left behind - have justice.

I want to believe that the celebrations in the streets, the flag-waving and the off-key anthems were for an American triumph, the accomplishment of a hard-won goal...and not for the death of one man.  I truly believe that we did what we had to.  It wasn't an issue of pride.  It hasn't been - at least not entirely - for some time.  It had become an issue of protection, of justice, of freedom.  And now, even with his death, it is still an issue of protection, justice and freedom.

Now, it's just a little less personal.

I have seen and heard many, many people quoting scripture regarding America's victory shout.  The one I see most frequently is about not taking joy in the death of an enemy: "Say to them, 'As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?" (Ezekiel 33:11)  I have also been seeing another verse from the same book: ""Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?" (Ezekiel 18:23)

People are using these quotes to state that we should not rejoice in a man's death.  I agree.  To a point.  The first quote is said directly to Israel, God's chosen people (not to Gentiles or pagans)...who were themselves even subject to his righteous anger for their own sin (read Numbers 25:1-9 if you don't believe me).  The second is God speaking, saying that he does not delight in wicked people dying; rather that he would greatly prefer their choosing his ways and living.  It does NOT say that the wicked will not die.

Do I delight in the death of this evil man?  No.  I cannot rejoice when anyone dies - not even if I think they deserve it.  Heck, I may be the only one in my family who still tends to balk at the death sentence.  Still...

Am I relieved and proud that our servicemen and women did their duty?  Am I grateful that at least his personal reign of terror is over?  Am I hoping that his death will bring about a time of healing, forgiveness and restoration for all the people - not just Americans - that he has attacked?  Am I praying that the eyes of his followers will be opened to the truth of his hate, cruelty, and wickedness?