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Sunday, September 18, 2016

Jumping In

My physical therapist touts water exercise as a boon to everything from arthritis to sliced bread. Being the obedient patient that I am, I've been grabbing every chance this summer to jump in with both feet and show those hips and knees who's boss.

On September 10, the worthy recipient of my poolside attention was my friend Tina's lovely private pool. Tucked away in her well-groomed back yard amidst a circle of trees with leaves dropping haphazardly into the water, the scene nudged me to loosen my grip on summer and transition with the trees into autumn.

Our carefree paddling was interrupted suddenly by an unexpected guest, causing this girl to emit shrieks which I'm pretty sure were heard by the population of Jakarta. Here's a hint:
I have it on good authority that this creepy guy was a mere garter snake, harmless and in fact helpful in controlling pest populations, wanting nothing more than to be left alone.

I beg to differ.

To me, this scaly creature was Hitler incarnate, daring me to swim alongside him, even as he invaded my calm space, uninvited and most assuredly unwelcome!

Unlike Hitler, this guy wanted to high tail it out of there almost as much as I wanted him to. He took every opportunity to try to scale and exit the slippery tiled walls of my friend's pool. Had he boned up on his snake literature as I did after coming face to face with him, he would've known his efforts would be futile. Indeed, it was only with the aid of a long-handled pool filter (and much shuddering on both our parts) that he eventually vacated the premises.

Tina's 70-something mother did most of the deed. Her tiny stature and white hair belie a wily hunter who knows what to do and when. She vamoosed the vermin with nothing more than the aforementioned filter and the type of intestinal fortitude that powered a foolhardy teenage shepherd to go up against a giant.

All this excitement left yours truly a quivering mass of insecurity and lost faith.

I knew, without a doubt, that would be the last time I'd set foot in Tina's pool. After all, its harmony had been shattered by an ignoble intruder.The carefree, idyllic setting I cherished had turned out to be nothing more than a harbor for wayward reptiles.

In a curious juxtaposition, I'm privileged to collaborate this year with a simply inspired social studies teacher. Her discourse Friday on the September 11 tragedy kept me riveted to my classroom seat in lieu of the 15-minute coffee break the district's obliged to give me. While I missed my caffeine, I was far more concerned with missing her lesson of triumph over the damage four planes did to man-made structures and human hearts.  

Let me recap some of the wonders that demonstrate divine providence in the midst of 9/11's carnage. Two days after the attacks, a construction worker spied two intersecting steel crossbeams mimicking the draped crosses many churches display on Easter. In a sad commentary on the times we live in, this symbol of rebirth amid wreckage had to fight for its right to be displayed at the September 11 Memorial Museum. The monument came under fire, just as faith in general must withstand assault in our "enlightened," post-modern age. Three wise judges ruled in favor of the Ground Zero Cross, just as one omniscient Judge ruled in ours 2,000 years ago.

The "Survivor Tree" is another marvel that withstood the attack on the World Trade Center. Workers noticed the tree, its crown hacked off by the crashing towers, sprouting leaves in October, when its uninjured counterparts were shedding them. Clearly yearning to live, this wounded pear tree was nursed back to health at a local nursery, where a dove created a nest in its branches. The tree has since been returned to its original location, signifying that evil may uproot but can never permanently banish the will to survive.

"The little chapel that stood," - AKA, St. Paul's Chapel - stands across the street from the World Trade Center. Firefighters traded shoes for boots, hanging the former on the chapel's iron fence before racing in to face peril at the World Trade Center. These brave souls never returned to claim their shoes, for the actions of terrorists claimed their lives. But the 250-year-old house of worship where Alexander Hamilton lies buried and George Washington bowed his head centuries before stood untouched by the havoc rocking its massive neighbors.The tiny structure sustained no damage, but instead served as a relief center and a symbol of endurance in the wake of destruction. 

A section of the Bible, fittingly melded to a heart-shaped piece of steel, is another 9/11 artifact that overwhelms me. A firefighter retrieved it from the rubble and gave it to a photographer, who donated this "act of God" to the memorial museum. There it serves as the ultimate testament to the ability of His enduring love to overcome atrocity. Amazingly, the book is open to Matthew 5:38-39: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also."

What does all this have to do with the snake in Tina's pool? Perhaps the best way to illustrate the connection is to reflect on the little-known 9/11 boat lift. In nine short hours, hundreds of commercial vessels, summoned by a single plea from the Coast Guard, converged to evacuate 500,000 stranded Manhattanites via New York Harbor. Clearly, this was the time for thinking people to jump ship, not go aboard (especially operators of the huge Staten Island Ferry, which one captain described as "a big orange target in the middle of that harbor"). Nonetheless, eschewing danger, these mariners rushed in to rescue their fellow man in what would become the largest sea evacuation in history, Dunkirk notwithstanding. 

I like to think, in a small way, the same power source that rescued thousands and rebuilt ruins after September 2001 forced me out of my comfort zone in September 2016. Despite my resolution to play it safe after evicting a scaly interloper, some God-given spirit of chutzpah kicked my hindquarters back into the pool. Granted, I kept my head above water and my eyes wide open because I knew full well that, though we had banished one invader, others live to slither another day. Even so, despite whatever evils may lurk in the depths, the rewards of participation in this danger-filled dance of life outweigh the risk every time. 

"The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me  to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn,  and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,

the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord  for the display of his splendor."

~ Isaiah 61:1-3