Rev. Jenny Rankin
---- — I sit with my cup of coffee.
It is morning and quiet. The kids are asleep, the birds at the feeder. The puppy is on the rug beside me playing with a toy.
The sky is that deep September blue. We can feel it coming: the wind a little brisker, the nights a little cooler. In the harbor, tall masts of the schooners sail in and are gone again. In the late afternoon, by the water’s edge, we linger, watching the golden sun on granite rocks, as the afternoon draws to a close and we try to let go of summer, move into the brisker rhythms of fall.
Today is Sept. 11. Many of us can remember just where we were on that morning.
Could it be 12 years ago now? For me, dropping a child at school, I remember the tall plume of grasses in a garden across the street. Then I got in my car, turned on the radio, and everything changed, in the blink of an eye.
For some of us, the day brought complete and devastating personal loss. For others, no friend or relative died, but we were witness to the horror — towers, planes, streets filled with smoke and ash, people running, firemen. The years go by but we do not forget.
So how shall I live this Sept. 11 these years later? There is nothing I can do or say that could be testimony enough. And yet, I must do something, even in the smallest of ways.
I sip my coffee and watch the puppy on the floor. “Beginner’s mind,” the Buddhist tradition whispers in my ear. The practice of pretending you are, once again, a beginner — just for today. Trying to look at each person you encounter, each thing you do, each place you go, with new eyes, as if you have never seen any of it before.
It isn’t easy for me to do. I can get so caught up, caught in the details, the lists. I forget to pick up my head. I forget to pick up my head from the sidewalk to say hello, to look out at the harbor — to pick up my head from the cell phone, the screen.
Beginner’s mind. For me, this September, it’s a little easier to practice because there is a lot that is new in my life. I am starting a new job, as interim minister at the Unitarian Universalist church in Gloucester, the oldest Universalist church in America! I am seeing one more child off to college and helping my son adjust to seventh grade. My father is gone, and I am beginning that chapter in life without parents.
We have a new puppy. It is a new September. The sky is deep blue, and I am remembering another deep blue September day.
Just for today, I’ll try to practice “beginner’s mind.” In the words of Thoreau — a man who lived once in Concord, as I do now, a man who has become a spiritual companion of sorts — “To be awake is to be alive.”
I confess I forget. I walk through a day half awake, probably more sleep walking than anything else. But just for today, on this blue-sky-day, I’ll practice.
I sip my coffee. The house is quiet. In a minute, I know, it all will change. The kids will wake. The emails stream in, the dishes get dirty, the laundry cry out to be done.
But here, on the edge of the day, I pause. I remember all that was lost, and I grieve. I remember all that remains, and give thanks. For life and love and beauty that persists, even in the face of grief and suffering and loss.
“To be awake is to be alive.” — I’ll try, just for today. I’ll try.
Rev. Jenny Rankin is the new interim minister at the Gloucester Unitarian Universalist Church. She will preach her inaugural sermon, Sunday, 10 a.m.