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My conversion story would not be complete without 9/11. Just weeks before this day ten years ago I had that big conversion experience. I talked about it before on this blog where I was at my sister in law's Catholic wedding minding my own business, just trying to enjoy the ceremony. I remember Psalm 38 was sung: Taste and See.
I remember the priest consecrating the host and hearing myself crying out in my mind,
"I WANT THAT."
I remember feeling embarrassed and not understanding what THAT was. I felt like crying but it wasn't a natural time to cry at a wedding. That would be during the exchange of vows right? I remember brushing this incident aside and then we flew home. We got back into our routine and then a few weeks later it happened. I woke up with NPR running as my alarm and just listening to the day's news and side stories. Then they interrupted their broadcast. I've always been afraid of flying so any news of plane crashes sends me into a tail spin of obsessing over what happened and thinking of the poor victims and thinking how terrified they must have felt. I left for work with this heavy on my mind believing at first it was just an accident. I walked to my car and saw white butterflies. I noticed there were quite a few. I kept seeing them on my drive to work. I focused on them and was comforted by them. I took it as a message of hope and I clung on to it. But the news only got worse as the morning went on. It wasn't just one plane- now another plane, then another hit the Pentagon. Then finally the one in Pennsylvania. I called my mom to make sure my brother was o.k. since he lives there. Worse yet, it wasn't just an accident. We were being attacked.
We all stared at the t.v at work. All of us were fixated, shocked and upset. My husband was allowed to go home from his job. For some reason the bosses at my place of employment wouldn't let us go home. Needless to say, we all weren't very productive that day. Some of our co-workers including one of my managers I worked under, were in the middle of business travels and stranded at airports.
But I kept thinking of the white butterflies. Why were there so many? I had thought of them as a sign of hope but the day didn't get better. I realize today that hope isn't always about happy endings in this life. It was a different kind of hope. The hope that God is there in the midst of horror and tragedy. The hope that this life isn't it. It's just the journey. It was His way of communicating with me that there was hope. Not in this life but the next. The God of white butterflies. He pointed me to one of His many awesome creations.
God had been working on me that entire year of 2001. Things were building up to that point at my sister in law's wedding. God had been working on my cradle Catholic husband too. He kneaded us like clay pushing this way and that. He took the blinders off our eyes and followed us around dropping hints here and there. They were not all lost on me. Then 9/11 happened and He found a way to tell me everything was going to be alright. That He is bigger than any tragedy and any act of terror. But that ultimately we must put our trust in Him if we're to find that hope.
The manager I worked under finally made it back from his travels. He had joked about his plane crashing before all this happened and I chided him saying he shouldn't joke of such things. He reminded me of my reaction to his joke and we talked about how strange it was in light of what happened. He was also Catholic and talked a lot about his involvement in his parish. He also talked about one of the parishioners who was lost on 9/11. It seemed that day really put people's faith on display. It was everywhere. The widow of this fellow parishioner's story went like this: Her husband flew to New York to sign papers at the World Trade Center. He was starting a new job and was excited that he was going to get to sign papers there. Then the 1st plane hit the tower where he was at. Upon news of the bombings, his wife's day became a surreal nightmare but she went to the chapel and prayed the rosary and as she and a nun sat in the chapel praying, she could feel a connection to her husband. She wasn't sure if he had been killed but she sensed his presence in the Chapel. There were many stories of people of faith getting through their final moments with grace. There were many stories of those with faith losing their loved one and yet still being witness to grace carrying them through. They had that hope. They had grace.
Weeks later, I witnessed my husband going to confession for the first time in 10 years. Afterward, we went to my first Mass in ordinary time that wasn't a wedding or funeral. I was mesmerized. The liturgy was comforting. It was timeless. There was hope. During the homily, the priest talked about complacency. How we were all complacent. How people's faith were complacent. How the U.S. was complacent and this was a wake up call. My husband knew when to stand and kneel and what to say when. I heard the Nicene Creed recited. Then the prayer petitions. They had petitions for the victims and the killers of 9/11. Then the Eucharist. I sat back in longing while my husband went up.(This was before he knew he wasn't supposed to receive until our marriage was blessed by the Church and he was very sad upon that revelation...)
I joined RCIA not long after and that manager I worked under was my sponsor. He answered all my questions about the Catholic Faith. Our marriage was blessed in May and I was received into the Church in June of 2002.
So my conversion story is not complete without 9/11. When I see white butterflies I can't not think of 9/11. When I think of my journey to Catholicism, I can't not think of 9/11. And sometimes when I stood in line for communion, that woman who lost her husband that day would be at the end serving. When it came to my turn, I would be face to face with her. I would look her in the eye and she'd say with a joyful smile,
"The body of Christ."
"Amen." I responded.
And in my thanksgiving prayer I would thank God for her witness. I also thanked Him for the white butterflies.
My prayers go out to all those who lost loved ones and for all the souls who died that day. And to the woman at my former parish who lost her husband that day. Thank you for showing me your witness of faith, hope and love.
Here are some other reflections on the 10 year anniversary of 9/11
Wonder if Someone is trying to tell us something
I Saw Death: Msgr Lorenzo Albacete on 9/11
Escaped the Tide