By Jenifer Tidwell
The unimaginable happens. Then what?
Ten years ago Sunday, a young Brooklyn firefighter named Chris Pickford lost his life when the Tower 2 fell. He was 32 years old. I’m a mother, and my heart recoils at the thought of losing my son in such a way. Yet it happened to so, so many people that day — we just can’t imagine all that pain, thousands of times over.
Six years ago, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. And barely two weeks ago, Hurricane Irene struck here. Like many readers of this blog, I indirectly know people who were lost to those disasters, not to mention homes and other beloved places.
We hold the funerals. We mourn, we clean up, we rebuild, and the river of time moves implacably on.
Later come the anniversaries and the memorials. To me, these hold a different meaning. Removed in time from the immediate impact, memorials call us not to recover, but to change. They ask us: how has this disaster changed you? And how does it change the world through you?
This Sunday, 2020 Vision Quest will take part in one of those memorials — the Flags on the 48 9/11 Memorial Hike. Of course, all of our hikes aspire to be part of something bigger than “just a hike” (we’re raising funds for two charities), but in this 9/11 hike, we’re taking part in a collective effort that really is far bigger than ourselves. Each of the 48 4000-foot peaks in New Hampshire will fly an American flag carried up by a hiking group. This carefully organized effort has been going on for nine years, occurring on or near the anniversary of 9/11.
Chris Pickford’s family is entrusting to us the flag that draped his coffin ten years ago. We will carry that flag up Mt. Moosilauke, and we will fly it from the summit from noon to 2:00. His cousin plans to hike with us, and we welcome him warmly.
How has 9/11 changed you? How do you respond to the anniversary this year?
For many people, simply remembering is response enough. There’s nothing wrong with that; sometimes it’s all we can manage, and remembering is important. Others respond by changing their lives entirely, such as by joining the armed services, or by working overseas to defeat poverty and illness and ignorance. God bless them all.
For me, the Flags on the 48 is certainly one way I respond. I’ve hiked it almost every year, and it moves me deeply each time. I admit that I don’t have the courage to work on the front lines against military threats or global poverty. But another way I can respond is to raise a child who understands how different people may share this world in peace, and who knows the meaning of honor, sacrifice, and courage.