Let me begin by saying that there are at least eleven things I could – and should – be doing right now instead of blogging. (I counted.) And there are perhaps hundreds of things that you could be doing instead of reading this.
I’m not a politician. I’m not a religious leader. I’m not an A-list celebrity with a posse of adopted third world children. I’m not an athlete. I’m not a musician. I am most definitely not a reality TV star, a random girl plucked out of obscurity forcing you to watch as I verbally abuse those around me and drink my weight in alcohol thinking that that makes me someone special.
I am, however, a twenty-something American girl who’s spent most of her life in Kazakhstan. I’ve been to 18 different countries on four continents. I’ve flown on more airplanes than I would care to take the time to count right now. I’ve been addicted to the internet ever since I got my first email address at Yahoo! and began writing daily emails to my friend Anna that mostly consisted of high school gossip and our mutual love for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Currently I’m a member of facebook, twitter, vkontakte, and wordpress, and I recently joined tumblr, although please delete that last bit of information because tumblr is where I go to be the immature teenager I never quite grew out of.
I have a passport but no driver’s license. When confronted with confusion over American culture in university, I looked to Mean Girls and other films. I own a Mac, iPod Touch, and a Kindle.
In short, I’m the future.
Cue the theme music.
Almost ten years ago, I can remember finishing up my homework for the evening and wandering into the living room of our very tiny apartment in Orbita to watch a little television. This was back when the cable companies of Almaty were selling access to channels they technically didn’t have any rights to, so we still got Star World and Star Movies, which means I was probably watching Friends or Two Guys and a Girl.
I hadn’t been there for very long when the phone in the kitchen rang. My father went to answer it, and suddenly he called for me to turn on the news.
I’m sure my sister and brother were there, but I really only remember my father, mother, and I sitting on the couch as we tried to understand how two airplanes could have flown into the World Trade Center.
About a year before this, I had gone to New York City with the youth choir of my church in Virginia. We had performed in Battery Park, walked around Times Square, sailed around the Statue of Liberty, and as we began the drive home, someone on the bus had directed my attention to the twin towers. They hadn’t made a big impression on me then, but as I watched the smoke and the people and the terror of that early Tuesday morning while I sat thousands of miles away at the end of the same Tuesday, I remembered that moment.
My father began calling friends in Almaty. Cable wasn’t the necessity in Almaty then as it is today, and most of my friends at school did not have it. My mother left the room for some reason, and I sat there on the couch not understanding.
And then the towers fell, and I began screaming.
I don’t remember much else about that night. It’s perhaps the third worst night of my life, one of the few nights were I cried until there were no more tears but only sobs and gasps. I can remember my father grabbing my face and telling me that I needed to breathe, I needed to calm down, and that I needed to stop watching the news. He might have told me that everything would be okay, but I don’t remember that.
I went to school the next day. I went to school, and all the Korean students were absent, but all the Americans were in attendance. 9/11 was a like a big pink elephant in the room that no one wanted to comment on, and I felt like standing up and screaming at my classmates and teachers, “What’s wrong with you people? Don’t you know what’s happened? Don’t you even care?”
My father showed up during second period and told me to get my things, and he took me and my siblings out of school. The American embassy in Almaty – for at that time, Almaty was still the capital of Kazakhstan – and the headquarters of the organization he worked for had sent emails warning Americans to “lie low.”
At home, my parents mourned, my sister disappeared into our room, and my brother and I shut ourselves up in the living room, the door closed and the cable off. My brother knew exactly how he wanted to spend a surprise break from school – he wanted to watch a movie. He asked me to stay because he wasn’t allowed to watch a PG-13 movie by himself, so I did, and he popped the VHS in, and we sat in silence as we watched Air Force One, the irony of my brother’s choice not lost on me.
And the next day, I went back to school, and life carried on.
Fear of others will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe. (Proverbs 29:25)
There were updates. There were breaking news headlines. There were stories of bravery and just plain dumb luck. There was a name and a face and an organization. There was the knowledge that only a mountain chain separated me from war.
I was home sick from church the day the Americans and British began bombing Afghanistan. The phone rang again, and it was my mother asking for a phone number and telling me that a little boy had been hit by a car outside of church. A hit and run, and my brother had dragged the boy from the middle of the road to safety.
And while angry people in America shouted and argued and threatened to flee for Canada, there was a private victory in the War on Terror when the Americans and British stopped bombing for one hour so that a little boy could have the airspace he needed to be evacuated to Europe. There was another victory when that little boy walked out of the hospital.
And life carried on.
Keep calm and carry on.
And there were more private victories. The personal victory of getting into an airplane 4 months later. The victory of surviving puberty and adolescence. The victory of studying hard and passing exams. The victory of a high school diploma. The victory of a first job. The victory of leaving a first job. The victory of surviving freshman year. Of roommates who liked country music. Of absentminded professors. Of cafeteria food. Of boys and getting asked out. Of asking boys out. Of good dates and of some very terrible dates that now can be laughed at. Of finding lost friends on facebook. Of traveling. Of crying in chapels and churches. Of surviving a heart that couldn’t protect itself from breaking. Of walking across a stage and not tripping. Of becoming a university graduate. There were the victories of interviews and job offers. Learning how to make a decent cup of coffee. Flirting in Russian. Surviving the first day of school. Surviving the second day of school. Staff meetings. Tax returns. Learning how to cook. Keeping an apartment clean. Sharing pain and sorrow and finding freedom in Jesus. There were friends and family and hugs and kisses.
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident. (Psalm 27: 1, 3)
And then last Monday, May 2, 2011, I sat on my couch and signed onto facebook. My parents were in the other room getting ready – they had arrived in Kazakhstan a week before and had been staying with me. Facebook loaded, the news feed updated, and one status caught my eye:
Osama bin Laden is dead.
I grabbed the remote and switched on the BBC. Nothing. I think they were still asleep. I flipped to CNN as I simultaneously searched Google, and there it was – President Obama to address the nation and to announce the death of Osama bin Laden.
I banged on the door and shouted the news to my parents, and for the second time in ten years I sat on my couch and watched as the world stopped because of one man.
But life carries on, and even though I wanted to hear Obama’s speech, I had things to do, places to go, and people to see. I dragged my feet a little but followed my parents.
I spent the next few hours playing with a little girl named Valiya, an orphan with Down’s Syndrome.
Keep calm and carry on.
I didn’t run out into the streets and cheer. I didn’t give a victory dance. I didn’t chant, “USA!” I didn’t rejoice in one man’s death.
I didn’t need to because that man was defeated years ago when I got off of my couch and went back to school and to life.
Keep calm and carry on.
On May 8, 1945, victory came to Europe. The Nazis surrendered to the Allies, and the people of the world danced in the streets.
Because of the time difference, V-E Day occurred on May 9 for the Soviet Union, and today people are getting up and putting on old medals. They’re buying flowers and visiting monuments. They’re celebrating survival. They’re celebrating victory.
Victory is making that conscious decision to carry on. It’s saying that I am not going to give up, I’m not going to die, but that I am going to fight.
And fighting doesn’t have to be with guns. Sometimes fighting evil is hugging a child.
What are you celebrating this Victory Day? This День Победы? This Жеңіс Күні?
Are you celebrating death?
Or are you celebrating life?
Dear Jesus, I’m glad you win in the end.
Shouts of joy and victory
resound in the tents of the righteous:
“The LORD’s right hand has done mighty things!
The LORD’s right hand is lifted high;
the LORD’s right hand has done mighty things!”
I will not die but live,
and will proclaim what the LORD has done.
The LORD has chastened me severely,
but he has not given me over to death.
Open for me the gates of the righteous;
I will enter and give thanks to the LORD.
This is the gate of the LORD
through which the righteous may enter.
I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
you have become my salvation.
Thank you to the men and women who have served our countries and fought for our freedoms.