I don’t usually save my "thank you’s" for a single government holiday. In fact, nearly every day, usually when I’m on bicycle and can feel the wind on my skin and in my lungs, I thank God giddily for my life.
I was at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Across the street, on the 28th floor of Three World Financial Center (the American Express building), with a stunning view of the entire attack from the minute the American Airlines jet hit the north tower until the United Airlines plane hit the south tower. I don’t talk about it much — it’s much too personal an experience for me, and I’d like to keep it that way. I don’t suppose my life was ever in any real danger, but I, and the thousands of others with me that day who fled the building in terror and stood in front of the New York Mercantile Exchange didn’t know that while we watched those towers burn and people tumble to their deaths.
It was a little like being given a preview of the end of the world. Or the day of judgment. That will always stick with me.
Maybe that day fuels your sadness, maybe it motivates your rage or justifies your sense of vengeance. If those are feelings I’m supposed to have, then I’ll have to apologize right now and say I don’t have any of them. What I do know is I met the risen Christ that day, amidst the fear, the terror, and the destruction. It wasn’t a meeting I sought, it wasn’t something I wanted, it certainly wasn’t something I expected. I’m still grappling with what this means. I expect I will be working that out for the rest of my life.
For everyone who has ever believed without ever having had an "a-ha!" experience, be grateful: those experiences can be absolutely terrifying and overwhelming. Yet I’m grateful, grovel on the ground grateful, for what I learned about God’s Love and Mercy that day.
I’m also daily grateful for my wife, Jennifer, the joy she brings to me, and everything I’ve ever learned from her. Douglas John Hall, in his book Why Christian?, said the only real way to grasp the universal is to learn from the particular. I was ready to learn about God’s Love from Jennifer, who has always loved me without question and without qualification. In taking care of her, I have had to learn to think about someone other than myself. I have had to learn how to be patient. It’s hard sometimes, and I often fail to be patient enough or kind enough. But I’ve learned a lot. And will probably continue to learn from her as long as we both draw breath.
I don’t deserve Jennifer. Which is why I find it so amazing every day that she loves me anyway.
There’s one other person I need to thank. Because I never have. Thank you, Bill Turner, for teaching me about hard work and being conscientious in everything I do. I haven’t always been, and sometimes, I have been a spectacular slacker. But whatever ideas I have about doing a good job and working honestly and diligently, I have because of you.
Thanks to all the kind Muslims who shared what they had with us when times were tough, who welcomed me as a brother without question or apprehension. I learned a lot from you — how to be hospitable, how to care for fellow believers. I also, I’m sorry to say, learned from you what not to want in a relationship with God.
Who else? Thank you to the United States Army, which taught me that I cannot take orders very well — certainly not when those orders involve doing harm to others. And thank you to the US Department of Agriculture, for showing me the inside of a sloppy but relatively "efficient" government bureaucracy for two years as a reporter, and teaching more than I care to know about agricultural subsidies and price supports and turning me into a LewRockwell.com reader.
And to the US Congress, for giving me such a delightful and absurd place to actually be a very small and insignificant reporter on occasion (I once believed that nothing could top a local planning and zoning commission meeting for sheer tediousness, and then I encountered the House Agriculture Committee). That goes for the United Nations, too, which was a fun place to spend a few months wearing down shoe leather while covering the Security Council.
As you can tell, my "thank you’s" are largely aimed at those I’ve learned things from. Well, those things are all you really carry with you in life, and I’m very conscious of the debt I owe for all the time, effort, and patience expended by others on me, either by accident or on purpose. For the attentive and the contemplative, life can be both tremendously amusing and very instructive at the same time.
Everything else rusts and decays.
But I am grateful for the things I can do with my hands. For the job I do which pays the bills and allows me to take care of Jennifer (and teaches me something new and interesting about crude oil or natural gas every single day). For hands that can bake bread, roast coffee, brew beer, play a guitar, and build bicycle wheels.
I’m extremely grateful for each of the 3,100 miles I’ve ridden on my bicycle this year. I hope to ride many thousands more.
Finally, I’m grateful for the understanding, even though I live in the Imperial Capital at a time when folks here are obsessed with "greatness" and remaking the world, that human life and existence are defined not by power or political or social ideologies, but by who we love and how we care for the people we love.
For all of this and more, I am, and always will be, extremely grateful.
Charles H. Featherstone [send him mail] is a Washington, D.C.-based journalist specializing in energy, the Middle East, and Islam. He lives with his wife Jennifer in Alexandria, Virginia.