I have a melancholy streak a mile wide. I love grey, cloudy days and cold weather and I especially love a beautiful, haunting sad song. (Guess I’m kinda weird that way.) Several years ago I heard a song in the background of a TV show that grabbed my melancholy by the arm and dragged me over. The music – a simple piano – was beautiful and the young man’s voice was earnest and mournful. I was hooked. I meant to hunt down the song later and find out about it, but life happened and I never did.
Somehow it rose up in my mind this week as the solemn anniversary of 9/11 approached. This time, thanks to iTunes, I finally tracked it down.
“I’d trade wisdom back in for innocence/to get away from all my lies/I’d trade wisdom back in for innocence/to get away from getting by/ I’d trade wisdom back in for innocence/for just one look through those eyes”
“Slow Down” (Ben Jelen)
There are many days when I’d give anything to trade in some life experience and get my innocence back. That loss is the worst part about growing up. The gradual, almost unnoticed fading away of our ideals, our hopes, our belief in goodness and even the possibility of things we can’t imagine. Cynicism replaces optimism; guardedness shuts out generosity and faith; fear replaces trust.
Then there are the moments like September 11, 2001, when innocence is shattered forever in an instant by a horror we still can’t comprehend and never saw coming.
One minute I was sleeping cuddled up with my firstborn baby, holding her tiny fingers, breathing in her intoxicating new-baby scent, surrounded by bunnies and pink blankets, and everything was perfect and pure. The next minute the explosions in New York blew everything apart.
I remember thinking, “This can’t be real. The United States doesn’t get attacked!” I sat glued to the television like every other person in the country, unable to believe my eyes. It was simply too surreal, too hideous to take in. The shelter of our homeland had been invaded by the most hateful violence. And just like that, I realized that my daughter and I were no longer from the same country.
The country I grew up in was gone. I could never pass it on to her. She’ll know it only through stories and history books. I don’t claim to be the first parent to ever feel this way, and there’ve surely been other page-turning events in our history that left two different Americas on either side. But there’s no denying that 9/11 changed everything in a radical way.
The last remnants of innocence and naïveté went up in the smoke and rubble of those burning, collapsed towers. No place on earth felt safe anymore. Perhaps safety had been just an illusion before, but now even the illusion lay in ashes.
I long to go back to the days when I wasn’t nervous getting on a plane. I long to return to childhood, when I didn’t know that life can be altered in the blink of an eye, completely against your will. I wish more than anything that I could protect my own children from losing their innocence, but I know I can’t.
Is it hopeless then? Not hardly. We cannot go back to unsullied ignorance; we’ll never be naïve again. But we really can be restored to purity again; our innocence can be renewed. At the Cross we trade in our dirt and rubble and the Spotless Lamb washes us clean again. Innocence Himself takes away our stain and gives us His own pure life. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Cor 5:21
We still live in the midst of explosive hatred and violence, but we are not obligated to become hardened and bitter. In fact, we must pray to remain guileless and hopeful, like a little child. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Matthew 5:8 “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10
If I could say something to my country today it would be this: Follow the instinct you had in the hours and days after 9/11, when your heart told you the remedy was not in government or business or might or yourself, but in God. Only the One who had made us can heal us. That isn’t mythology or a fairytale or a crutch, and somewhere in our bones we knew it on that terrible day. Before we talked ourselves out of being “religious” we heard that still small voice in our spirits calling us to seek His face again.
While we stare evil in the face and guard against danger, we may still remain pure in heart if we ask. Whatever violence may be done to us, if we live in the heart of the Holy God who came to us as a Child, and offered Himself as an innocent Victim in our place, then we can be made new each day, over and over. We can wear our “wisdom” like a ball and chain or we can trade it back in for Innocence. Let us choose wisely.