Real Talk with Mary Ellen: A September 10th Reflection

These last days of summer! Already my sunrise routine is beginning to inch later as new fall rhythms take root.  In the early hours of morning I gird myself for the year ahead. The girding looks different than it did, say, 20 years ago. Back then I mused that Danny was an easy baby and our expanding family of 5 might momentarily be mobile and flexible. His “big” sisters were so intrigued and curious about life, could we squeeze in a trip abroad for later fall- before we were ladened with the inevitable strollers and equipment?

Talk to anybody about 9/11 in NYC- they’ll tell you how blue and gorgeous the skies were.  Although, I do recollect my rainy September 10, 2001 birthday dinner; SG stepped in a puddle so deep that her little red rubber boot stayed stuck while we continued crossing the Broadway median to the restaurant. How we laughed and laughed.

The events that followed shaped how I engage last-days-of-summer; I can almost say it changed the color and tenor of hopefulness altogether. Among the crystallizing lessons of 9/11 was …hold on to plans lightly. Over time, and with more life experience heaping atop itself, I acquired some ease switching between a large life and a small life.  By that I mean I treasure those seasons flush with hope, large horizons, big dreams and yet I find ways to live with faithfulness during times when I can’t really see beyond the end of my nose. This season, pre-during-post-IDK-covid is one of those times.

“Life” feels about as large as how far particles flow when exhaling. Not that large.  What we don’t know is…a lot. How do I translate Delta variant transmission rates into actionable intel as I play the odds with my family’s health? When will children get vaccinated? How do we find ways to limit exposure yet engage? What are the signs of languishing?  Am I just reasonably depressed or dangerously depressed?  What about my kids?  These are the sorts of tensions and intractable decision-making that make me feel my world is small.

A familiar quality I recognize in this season of a “small” life is difficulty in making decisions: the goalposts keep shifting! I find myself overwhelmed by regular aspects of life and by any standard I have a huge number of other plates in the air (it really doesn’t matter how many plates because just the two were already 100% overwhelming). And…literally everyone I know is in the same boat.

A few weeks ago as I dropped Danny back at college in Tucson, I drove past the school for the deaf and blind where I had my first real job. I remembered my brave students and how they learned how to position their bodies, developed movement habits, learned routes. It takes a lot of courage to take the next step when you can’t see where you are going.  How did they do it? For starters, there was no choice but to try.  And second, the students were surrounded by encouraging guides who listened, instructed, modelled, and celebrated.

The 9/11 terror permanently changed the way I hope and look forward (I do it in pencil).  This Covid pandemic is like navigating in the dark.  Sam probably said it best: “ It’s like the great stories, Mr. Frodo; the ones that really mattered.  Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end.  Because how could the end be happy.  How could the world go back to the it was when so much bad happened. But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow.  Even darkness must pass.  A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.”

The bottom line? The world feels small, the future unchartered, the path obstructed. But I am going to pull on courage, lean on the wisdom of God, accept kindness and look for ways to be encouraging to others. And then wake up and do it all over again.

Author: Mary Ellen Lehmann

Director of Children & Youth Ministries at All Angels' Church in New York City. Mary Ellen and her husband, Mike, have been married 30 years, and have four children. Several of them are adults.

One thought on “Real Talk with Mary Ellen: A September 10th Reflection”

  1. Thank you for this thoughtful meditation. Putting one foot in front of the other, even in darkness, but with encuraging guides around us. May it be so.


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