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Sometimes faith is all we have to cling to

It’s Sunday morning, September 11, 2016 and I’ve been watching TV coverage of the fifteenth anniversary of the World Trade Center attack. Most of us have a story about that day, just as those of us who are older have stories about where we were when we heard that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. Events like those are seared into our psyche. They never go away.

The testimonies of survivors of the 9/11 strikes are drenched in the pain of their losses on that fateful day — losses of moms and dads, sisters and brothers, husbands and wives, children and grandchildren, dear friends. If you remember that day, you know how you were affected by it. Here’s how it impacted me:

My son graduated from high school in May 2011. Rather than go to college he decided to join the U.S. Marine Corps. Even though I’m a dove when it comes to war, I thought it was a good idea. People in the military learn self-discipline, respect for authority, teamwork, endurance, and more. Besides, we were in a time of peace.

I lived in Greenwood then, and on the morning of 9/11 I took a pair of boots to Harris Shoe Repair so Tracy Hansbrough could re-heel them. Tracy and I were making small talk when we looked up at the TV mounted over the counter. It was 8:03 a.m., central daylight time. We watched in utter disbelief the billowing smoke coming from the WTC’s North Tower. Then we saw United Airlines Flight 175 crash into the South Tower. Nearly an hour later — 8:59 a.m. — the South Tower collapsed. Not much else mattered that day, nor did it for days and weeks to come.

When I learned that the devastation was an act of terrorism it didn’t take two seconds for me to realize the gut-wrenching truth that we would be going to war and that my son would be one of the first to be deployed in that battle.

I flew to San Diego for my son’s graduation from boot camp. His was the second class to complete training after 9/11. This was not the trip I had thought it would be, for now I carried a knot of fear and dread in my stomach and heart.

I’m pretty sentimental. It only takes a few seconds of a poignant moment to mist my eyes. This poignant moment lasted four years. There were private times in which tears stained my cheeks. Most days I welcomed the kind words of support from family and friends. But there were also days in which there was no consolation no matter what was said. I could not speak of the trepidation I kept inside. I quit watching movies and television that were about war. I simply could not so much as look at a dramatization of a fictional battle without feeling that knot of fear wring more tightly.

Unlike so many others, my son came home safely after tours of duty in both Afghanistan and Iraq. I’ve never had more gratitude in all my life and I doubt I ever will.

What got me through besides the support of so many?  Faith. Not a faith in a magical deity that would protect my son from harm, but a faith in someone, something that was bigger than myself. Planted in my soul was an assurance that, even if the worst came to be, I would make it through. Not without pain. Not without heartache. Not without despair. But there would be a way for me through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. As real as was my fear, so was my assurance.

The late Corrie ten Boom survived the hell of the Nazi death camp, Ravensbruck. Her sister, Betsie, did not. Yet Betsie’s dying words were of hope, faith, trust, and forgiveness: “There is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still.”

Sometimes that’s all we have to hang on to, but for me it was enough. Fifteen years later it still is. It has always been enough and I trust it always will be. How do I know? I don’t. I just believe. That’s how trust works.

Trust resides squarely between faith and doubt. – Warren G. Bennis

Randy Weeks is a minister and a counselor. He lives and writes in Oxford. He can be reached at peacemill369963@gmail.com.