There is a storm outside. Very unusual for September in the Bay Area. My 20-month-old son and I are watching the lights in the sky and mimicking the sounds of the stormhis first experience of lightning and thunder. At first he is fascinated and roars with the thunder, but he quickly becomes afraid. When the lightning flashes, he wraps his arms around my neck and burrows his head into my shoulder in anticipation of the crash to come. We close all the blinds and turn on the fan to muffle the noise.
My son is asleep now. My husband lies on the couch, watching the news. I am getting ready for bed. A piece of the story on television about the final weeks of the terrorists who bombed the World Trade Center and the Pentagon commands my attention. The reporter is interviewing a man who owns a crop-dusting business in Florida. The terrorists had been there inquiring about renting a plane. The reporter speculates that they may have planned to dust metropolitan areas with biological weapons.
As I write, the attacks are two weeks in the past. The images are still vivid and realtoo real. Every time my mind is free to wander it rehearses the footage of the buildings collapsing. Over and over I have imagined what it must have been like to be in those buildings. I wonder when the moment of death came for the people in the buildings, for the people on the planes, for the people who jumped or fell to their deaths. Too many times I have thought about the couple traveling with their two-year-old child aboard one of the planes that hit the W.T.C. These are horrible thoughts.
My response up until now has been sadnessdeep, deep sadnessfor those killed, for their families, for those who live in the developing world and who are exploited by U.S. imperialism, for my country, aware that these tragedies will mean more money allocated for the Pentagon, for war, and less for justice and peace. So far, though, fear has eluded me. New York is far away and I have no plans to get on a plane. I have felt personally affected by the tragedy of Sept.11as an American and as a human beingbut I have not felt vulnerable. Until now.
The story my husband is watching on television seizes my attention, and I feel it. Fear. It starts in my gut. Then I become nauseous, shaky. And I remember a scene from a movie where a man was exposed to biological weapons. I can see the bubbles quickly forming on his skin, his bulging eyes, his terror. But this is no movie.
I think of my son, sleeping in his crib. I want to grab him and run away. I want to hide. It is suddenly urgent that I get my family to a safe placeaway from potential terrorist targets. Where can we go? Montana, perhaps. New Mexico. Maybe we should leave the country altogether. My mind whirls as I try to think of a remote area that is not threatened by war or poverty. Intellectually, I am aware that people all over the world feel this fear. And for many women with young children the vulnerability is much more profound and the danger much more imminent than it is for me. I suddenly realize that there is no place to go. Evil is everywhere. So is fear.
As I lie in bed, I think of a question a friend asked himself recently, Who am I not to be vulnerable? My friend travels regularly to Cité Soleil in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to work with men who are among the poorest in the hemisphere. His relationships with the poorest of the poor have forced him to wonder why he should be secure when his friends face the real possibility of death each day. So now I wonder: Who is my son to be safely sleeping in his crib when children’s lives are at risk all over the world? Does God love him any more than the children who are sleeping on concrete tonight in Port-au-Prince? I know the answer to these questions, but my response as a mother is visceral. I do not want to put him or myself at risk. I do not want to be vulnerable to evil.
Where is my faith? I ask myself, Where is my hope? I know intellectually that as a Christian who is deeply moved by liberation theology I confess a God who lives and is present among us even as we face the power of evil. I have witnessed first hand and have known people for whom this God is not an abstraction but a real source of courage, hope and love. I think of a man I met in Haiti, a priest in Bosnia, Mother Teresa’s sisters in Port-au-Prince. But their example does not comfort me in my fear. I do not share their courage. In fact, right now I do not believe in the power of God. Right now, evil is too strong.
Roddy is awake early this morning. It’s 5:45 and it’s still dark outside. Still groggy after getting him out of his crib, I go to the couch. With his characteristic early-morning energy (which is a complete mystery to me), he runs to the window and looks out into the darkness.
Sun! he shouts. I look at him, perplexed. This is the first time I have heard him talk about the sun. Sun has not been a word or a concept we have rehearsed with him.
He looks at me expectantly. Sun! Sun coming! He looks at me again and then back out the window. I look out the window. The sky is dark. There are no signs of dawn on the horizon. It will be another hour and a half before the sun makes its way over the neighboring apartment buildings. But in a desire to affirm his growing vocabulary, I confirm his statement. That’s right, Roddy, the sun is coming.
He looks back at meseriously now, as if he’s about to tell me something really important. Wait. Sun to come.
It is 10 days later. My depression, my sadness, my fear have not gone away. I still feel the real presence of evil in the world. I still feel vulnerable. But there is something about the memory of my son last Tuesday morning that keeps drawing me back. I feel invited to stay there. Remembering his excitement and his confidence that the sun will come is suddenly very comforting to me.
The rhetoric of the politicians on television is dualistic, violent, vengeful and triumphalistic. The world has been divided into evil and goodness, the good guys and the bad guys. It’s supposed to be clear and simple. We are supposed to feel confident that goodness in the form of U.S. foreign policy will rid the world of terrorists and all other forms of evil. I want to believe it, but I know better. I still have days when I feel consumed by fear, and in those moments, I do not believe that goodness is stronger than evil. The language of battle does not help me.
What is helpful is the memory of my son, running from his bedroom in the predawn darkness, insisting sun coming. The gift of his excitement, his eager, hopeful, confident expectation helps. I do not believe that God will use the U.S. military to destroy evil. I do not believe I will ever live in a world where human beings will not be vulnerable to horrible forces. But I do believe that evil does not have the last word. For though I go to sleep paralyzed by fear, I wake up in a world where the irresistible hope of a child greets me and reminds me of a simple, basic truth. And so, as I struggle with my own sadness and depression, I take comfort in this gift and wait for the sun to come.