Stars and Stripes: Reflecting on 9/11

Today marks 20 years since September 11th, 2001, or "9/11," that unforgettable day in our nation's history when four ruthless, coordinated terrorist attacks took place on U.S. soil. The days that followed 9/11 found me camped in front of the television set, watching in disbelief and horror as the aftermath of those attacks unfolded. There, I observed and began to grasp everything our nation had lost on that fateful day: thousands of precious lives... our sense of security... our peace of mind... our ability to trust... our innocence. Twenty years later, memories of that time remain seared into my mind - vivid, heart-wrenching picture memories that I can access as easily as I'm able to retrieve a scrapbook from a bookshelf. One of the most indelible of these is an image of three New York City firefighters standing at Ground Zero of the World Trade Center bombings, raising our country's flag above the debris and inspiring within my heart the hope that the people of the United States would conjoin, and somehow overcome, this devastating tragedy.

"Raising the Flag at Ground Zero" / Thomas E. Franklin, photographer

That United States flag, its stars and stripes flying high atop the ruins of the World Trade Center, stood in stark contrast against the evil our country had just encountered and, in time, became a perfect representation of the heroism, unity, and perseverance witnessed in the days, weeks and months following 9/11. Those stars and stripes symbolized courageous individuals who dared to rush into a burning building or a locked cockpit to save lives. Those stars and stripes stood for Americans determined to set aside what divided them and instead band together as one nation to condemn and recover from the horrors that befell thousands on that awful day. Those stars and stripes epitomized every man and woman who disregarded their own needs and left their own families behind, so that they could confront and bring to justice those who orchestrated the 9/11 attacks. Until my last breath, those stars and stripes will take me back to the experience we shared on 9/11, and will remind me of how the people of these United States rose above the rubble and endured.

Today marks an unforgettable day in my personal history, as well. On this very day, 20 years ago, I was in Houston's Medical Center, receiving what would be my final chemotherapy treatment for advanced ovarian cancer. I reflect on the years that have since passed, and realize that stars and stripes have become deeply emblematic of my own 9/11 story. Throughout my cancer journey, my family and I were blessed to encounter many a "star" - humble and selfless souls who aligned with our family as we faced a formidable adversary. Those stars sacrificed time and resources to care for us, and their support and encouragement allowed our family to rise from the rubble and endure. I am so grateful for each and every star that shone brightly during that dark time in our family's history; one of those stars is my friend, Cathy.

Cathy has been a bright light, a calming presence, and a wise counselor in my life for many years. Also my hairstylist, Cathy lovingly led me through one painful and unfortunate consequence of my chemotherapy treatments: my hair loss. I recall with clarity the day we decided the time had come to shave my head, as my hair had begun to fall out faster than I could catch it. A tear fell as each lock of hair hit the floor, for each seemed to confirm just how ill I was. Cathy comforted me as I grieved my circumstances, then gently placed a wig on my head. With much skill and even more compassion, she fashioned that wig into my usual hairstyle, then encouraged me to look in the mirror. I did, and there I saw "healthy" Lynn, the Lynn I'd viewed in the mirror each day... that is, until cancer invaded my life. I can't tell you what a mental boost this moment was for me, which brings me to the stripes part of my tale.

Some weeks ago, I reminded Cathy that today would officially mark my 20th year in remission, and expressed my desire to find some meaningful way to commemorate that milestone. I wondered aloud: "What if I put teal-colored stripes in my hair?" Why teal stripes? Well, September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and teal is the color associated with that effort. Those stripes would be my impetus to speak to other women about the signs, symptoms and risks associated with ovarian cancer, and also embolden me to share my own cancer story. Finally, those stripes would be an expression of gratitude for the 20 additional years that God has allowed me to experience life, in all of its colors, through His merciful gift of healing. Healing comes in many forms, and each is a gift secured at great cost, through the wounds that Christ suffered:

"Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his stripes [wounds] we are healed."

~Isaiah 53:4-5

I visited Cathy this week, and that star of a friend greeted me at the door with a hug. And teal-colored hair extensions! I am now wearing them proudly... in memory of the lives lost and forever changed on 9/11... with personal gratitude for a life restored on that same day... and with thanksgiving for the God who gave His all, that we might be healed. I will never forget.