The Beginning, or the End?

The World Trade Center, September 11, 2001

The World Trade Center, September 11, 2001

On September 11th, our son turned two months old. He is our first child and the first grandchild in both our families. He was baptized the Sunday before the attacks in our small mountain church.

My husband’s parents came out from Tennessee and stayed several days. It snowed six inches that weekend. The aspen, caught by surprise, bowed deeply under heavy leaves. The squatters living in the old miner’s cabins up the gulches say this year is going to be the big one. The millennial Colorado winter.

My husband’s father is an Episcopal priest. He baptized his grandson with water and oil, and our own priest offered a homily welcoming Sam into the congregation. “God can see him better now,” he said. “What we’ve done today can never be washed off.”

Two days later, we watched the attacks and the aftermath on TV at my father’s house on the Colorado plains. We watched for hours; cameras fixed on the hole in the New York skyline, the smoke and the burning.

Outside, the horizon rose to Longs Peak’s 14,000 feet of dense, immovable stone. The sky was a cloudless autumn blue and the air smelled like turning cottonwood leaves. I took a walk with my father-in-law to escape the TV. We ate the tiny wild plums growing along the ditch bank, even though they were tart and hard. We talked about how the world has changed.

My son hung limp and asleep in the pack against my chest. I pointed out the native chokecherry bushes, and the long, droopy stalks of wild asparagus already gone to seed. We stopped under the tallest cottonwoods and a smile crept over my father-in-law’s face at the coolness shade can work in the dry western air.

My husband’s father was born in Mobile, Alabama in 1929. He attended seminary in New York City, and returned to the South for his ministry. He is not the loud, lyrical talker Protestant Southern preachers are supposed to be. He is quiet, bookish and patient. He has a strong singing voice and wears sneakers under his vestments. Even on this day, his Christianity seemed more about improving life on Earth than dwelling on the apocalypse.

Is this the beginning? I nonetheless wanted to ask. Is it true that some people will just disappear? Some will escape?

But I didn’t. My father-in-law had wanted to leave behind for awhile the house, the TV, and the opinions and questions of racing minds. We stood quietly under the yellow trees, the brown foothills, and the gray icy head of Longs Peak.

My father-in-law has known many Americas. The Americas of southern wealth and poverty; America at war and at peace; black America and white America; Pearl Harbor, race riots and men landing on the moon.

Is this much different? I wanted to ask. Are you afraid?

We watched leaves turn slowly on the glassy surface of my family’s pond and said nothing. Samuel woke up and folded his hands and his chin inside the pack. He looked like a little genie, about to perform a trick. His eyes remain the murky gray common to newborns. His sight is strongest at this distance. The distance from a mother’s breast to her face.

Will Christ really be without mercy? I wanted to ask. What happens to babies at the rapture?

Luke 21:23-24: “Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress on the earth and wrath against this people…” Do not love your children above God, says the Bible. Be willing to leave your family and follow Me.

Sam’s small chest pushes against mine with his breath. I am aware of how weak my faith is; how little I trust God. I would not give Him my son. I would hold onto his body until mine was torn apart.

Will my son love his country? Will he love God? Will he be persecuted for his faith, for the mark that you gave him that cannot be washed off? When the smoke of burning cities is rising to heaven, will the Lord still see him?

Molly Chilson is a writer and a lawyer in Breckenridge, Colorado.