9/11 - 17 Years Later

It was in fourth grade, in the middle of music class. The PA system came on, and our principal gave an announcement. All I remember hear was the word “bombing”, and I had never heard so much terror in an adult’s voice. We were lined up against the wall and ushered back to our classrooms. My classmate told me what the World Trade Center was, and I took comfort in the distance between them and my little elementary school: a few thousand miles. Still, everybody was scared. One by one kids were being picked up, and I wondered if my parents would come get me. Eventually my father got me and my little bro. That’s really all I remember about that day.

There’s one more thing I do recall, and that was the answer to my question of why somebody would attack us. Up until then I did not know of any wars we were in or any foreign disputes. All I knew about war was that my grandpa had fought in the Second World War. So why?

“They hate us because we are free.”

I don’t even remember who gave me that answer. My parents, a teacher, my brother? I just remember thinking it was preposterous. Why weren’t they free? Were they so jealous that they wanted to kill us? Why is it our fault that they aren’t free? Then 10 years later we killed the man responsible. I was a freshman in college. I found it heartbreaking that the brokenness of the world was such that we had to have parades for a man’s death, but justice was served that day. I wrote about it in my Tumblr.

I’m not writing this because I think my experience was unique. Everybody has their own story of the moment they found out. I also don’t have some sort of insight into the nature of evil or, I don’t know, anything about this event really. I’m just writing this because a couple weeks ago I went to New York for the first time and visited the 9/11 Memorial. I choked back tears as I read the names of strangers whose lives were cut short. I used my phone to read the stories of victims like Benny Ong, the flight attendant on the first plane who notified American Airlines of the highjacking. She was going to fly from LA to Hawaii to vacation with her sister after she landed. There were also siblings Leonel and Blanca Morocho, immigrants who moved here because they knew how great this country was, and they made honest livings so that they could bring the rest of their family over.

I know that none of the people whose names are on that memorial can read this, but I just felt the need to say that we remember. Everybody remembers, and even though this is an unimaginable tragedy, I hope that somehow the people of America are changed for the better because they remember. God bless those who suffered loss on that day, and may we all strive to make the world feel the opposite of how it did 17 years ago. That’s all.

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In recent years we as a people have been tribalized and factionalized by a thousand casual unkindnesses. But in this we are one. Flags sprout in uncommon places, the ground made fertile by tears and shared resolve. We have become one in our grief. We are now one in our determination. One as we recover. One as we rebuild.”

The Amazing Spider-Man #36 (December 2001)



That's True

"What you do is you sit on the edge of your bed and you say, 'Okay, what I did was wrong.' and you have to really believe this. You've thought about it. It's killing you. It's killing you. So now you're penitent, and you're confessing... and you're confessing to yourself as much as to anyone, and you say, 'I really want to know what I did wrong, and I really want to know what I can do to put it right. And I'm willing to accept any answer that will manifest itself to me.'

That's a prayer that will be answered, and it won't be answered in the way that you want it to be answered."

Yeah.

Reflections on Matthew 4:1-11

    Jesus is wandering around in the desert, which is where I assume Christians get the phrase “spiritual dryness.”. While I have a great distaste for cliche religious jargon, there seems not to be a more sophisticated phrase to describe such a state as being a Christian and not feeling very “Christian.” Even if there were, at that point, it would just be semantics.
    The term “spiritual high” is also often thrown around, which is another one of those oh-so-clever Chrstianese phrases. It’s the opposite of being in a state of spiritual dryness. The issue I take with it is that it’s usually spurred on my a mission trip or going to camp or some event that for whatever reason spurs on your affections for God, sending you into super Jesus mode, during which you can fight temptation harder, read your bible longer, and, if you’re lucky, preach the Gospel more boldly, if at all. When you come down, it’s natural to just wait for the next one.
    Forgive me if my tone is at all condescending. All of this is not to question the legitimacy of these spiritual stages. I’m just not fond of the wording, but I am anything but immune to their effects. As the Lord so walked, I myself have been trekking through a dry desert, though a spiritual one and not a physical one. But therein lies the conflict. While Jesus’ feet burned on the sand and His brow sweat under the Middle-Eastern sun, He told temptation off. While I have comfort all around me, old temptations and the feeling of lacking seems to overcome me all too often.
    Jesus is offered food, status, and wealth by the devil. Wearily, He was still able to say no, responding to every temptation with scripture. I get hungry after a about 4 hours without food. I can’t begin to understand how you can say no to bread after 40 days. Yet, it was done. I wrote a couple years ago how I felt I was missing so much, but I knew that in Christ I lacked nothing. I often feel like I’m back to where I was those years ago, always questioning what I lack and then taking the bread that satan so joyfully offers me, satisfying for a moment but then leaving my mouth even more parched that before. So I ask for more, or for something else. “If only people thought of me like this” or “if only I had that.” Those are the two other temptations offered to Jesus, and I think it’s by God’s grace that satan has not been given the allowance to grant me those requests. That’s not to say that what I’m asking for is inherently evil. Perhaps I will be gifted those at some point, and I hope that I can steward them well at that time. Still, I think the temptation to make those things my all will always be there.
    Today this question was presented to me: if you had the chance to take all of God’s stuff but not have God, would you take it? That’s what the last temptation was. I had to think about it. To have my greatest desire given to me. What a temptation. Then I remembered the times I had traded God for what He had given me. Those are not memories on which I like to linger, and the pain I caused during those times still leave me contrite, years later. But I also remember the grace offered in those times, the lessons learned and the chances given. Such mercy. Remembrance, while having the ability to bring grief and regret, all the more allows you to call to mind the times you were lifted up the most.
I can remember how the villagers in India came to hear about Jesus while I was there and how I saw people healed. I can remember the grace offered to me even after my worse sins. I can even remember something like the eclipse I traveled across the country to see. I think that’s what Jesus did. Temptation after temptation, and he went back to scripture, to remind himself all the ways God had been faithful, and satan fled. One of the greatest discouragements in my life is seeing people I love so dearly make the desert their home. They walk away, and I often wonder what they think of their past and why they used to cling to God so tightly. Maybe they haven’t thought of it, but one of my most desperate prayers is that they do.
I’ll end with Psalm 77, which is a good reminder that from the beginning, people walked through rough patches, crying out to God but not hearing what they wanted. Asaph, at the end of his rope, not getting what he’s asking for, pens this:

Then I said, “I will appeal to this,
    to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”

I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
    yes, I will remember your wonders of old.

    Line after line, he writes about what he remembers God has done. He ends by alluding to the story of the Israelites getting led out of the desert.

You led your people like a flock
    by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

    Let’s be confident we’ll see the same ending.
 

To Chester Bennington

I was in 6th grade when my cousin let me listen to an album called Hybrid Theory by a band called Linkin Park. I had been previously chastised by a classmate at school for responding “who’s that?” to the question “Do you listen to Linkin Park?” I knew that owning this album was my way of getting in with the cool kids, but I would have to convince my mom first.

My mom’s immediate answer was “no.” My cousin assured her that the songs had no cuss words in them, and after begging, my mom relented and said she would have to listen to the songs first. I excitedly handed the portable CD player over to her, confident of the album's purity. The first song of the album, Papercut, played. She winced as she sat through the heavy drums and electric guitar. Then the vocals came in, and she immediately took off the headphones and declared “the very first word I heard was a cuss word!” I think in her brain the song went something like this:

F*** your parents!
Drop out of school and do drugs!
God is dead! 
Satan reigns!!!

This was before the time of having all the lyrics to every song in your pocket, but I still had that covered: the booklet in the CD case had all the lyrics to the songs. She skimmed through it. There were, in fact, no cuss words.

When I got my own copy, I put it in my CD player and started listening from the beginning. That same song that so terrified my mom started.

Why does it feel like night today?
Something in the air’s not right today
Why do I feel so uptight today?
Paranoia is all I got left

I listened to that album all the way through, enjoying every minute, and so many more times after that.

At that time, the weightier things of the world were not yet on my shoulders. My biggest issues were the girl I had a crush on not talking to me and me feeling lonely, but when I listened to this album that was being sung by a grown man who had deep struggles, I didn’t feel alone. I was about as emotionally immature as a little boy could be, but these songs allowed me to draw out of me that which I didn’t understand. It’s a practice that this album so engrained in me that I still do it today, as a grown man. I listened to Hybrid Theory again today. It still helps, 14 years later.

So thank you, Chester, for helping an 11-year-old Daniel better understand himself. I’m sorry that the weightier things of the world crushed you, like it has so many before you, but I hope that in your life you knew that you helped make that burden a little bit lighter for so many. You will be missed.

When my time comes, forget the wrong that I’ve done
Help me leave behind some reasons to be missed

You certainly did, Chester.

Big Bend: The Outer Mountain Loop

I decided to get more creative with my telling of this adventure and put it in the form of a photo story. All the pictures used were taken on my iPhone and edited in Lightroom. Hover over the picture for the caption. Enjoy!


 The Outer Mountain Loop is the premier trail of Big Bend National Park. It is a 35-mile, 3-day journey, taking you through very diverse terrains and offering the best views in Texas. My friends and I had been training for the couple of months leading up to the trip to ensure we would have the safest and most enjoyable experience possible.  The first part of the trail takes you up the mountain. We took a slight detour to the top of Emory Peak, the highest point in the park, which added a few extra miles. To get to the very tip top of the mountain, you have to scramble up a 20-30 foot rock wall. There is pretty decent cell phone service at the top. I sent a text to my mom to make sure she knew I was okay before we scooted carefully down and hiked back to the main trail.

The Outer Mountain Loop is the premier trail of Big Bend National Park. It is a 35-mile, 3-day journey, taking you through very diverse terrains and offering the best views in Texas. My friends and I had been training for the couple of months leading up to the trip to ensure we would have the safest and most enjoyable experience possible.

The first part of the trail takes you up the mountain. We took a slight detour to the top of Emory Peak, the highest point in the park, which added a few extra miles. To get to the very tip top of the mountain, you have to scramble up a 20-30 foot rock wall. There is pretty decent cell phone service at the top. I sent a text to my mom to make sure she knew I was okay before we scooted carefully down and hiked back to the main trail.

 This is Glenn. He's a goofy guy and was my tent buddy for the trip. After Emory Peak, we proceeded to hike down the mountain, passing through thick forested areas. We were lucky to be in the shade of the mountain the whole time, but the forest came with its own hardships. There were many fallen trees on the trail, and I had a very close call when climbing over one and slipping. My ankle got caught under the tree, but luckily my Solomon boots protected me. The trail eventually started to flatten and clear out, but the first day's hike still seemed like it took forever, despite our quickened pace.

This is Glenn. He's a goofy guy and was my tent buddy for the trip. After Emory Peak, we proceeded to hike down the mountain, passing through thick forested areas. We were lucky to be in the shade of the mountain the whole time, but the forest came with its own hardships. There were many fallen trees on the trail, and I had a very close call when climbing over one and slipping. My ankle got caught under the tree, but luckily my Solomon boots protected me. The trail eventually started to flatten and clear out, but the first day's hike still seemed like it took forever, despite our quickened pace.

 We had already been walking for several hours, and the sun was starting to dip behind the mountain. Jon is looking down the path in hopes of seeing our water cache spot. We were still a few miles away when we spotted a rescue helicopter far in the distance, reminding us that this hike isn't for everybody.  Side note: there are very few, if any, sources of water on the trail, so we had to drive to designated spots and hike in a little bit to the trail and leave jugs of water in designated animal-proof boxes, or we would die. It was recommended we bring one gallon of water per day per person. I carried 6 liters a day, which I would always finish.

We had already been walking for several hours, and the sun was starting to dip behind the mountain. Jon is looking down the path in hopes of seeing our water cache spot. We were still a few miles away when we spotted a rescue helicopter far in the distance, reminding us that this hike isn't for everybody.

Side note: there are very few, if any, sources of water on the trail, so we had to drive to designated spots and hike in a little bit to the trail and leave jugs of water in designated animal-proof boxes, or we would die. It was recommended we bring one gallon of water per day per person. I carried 6 liters a day, which I would always finish.

 We finally arrived at the cache spot and our first campsite, just before sunset. Two park rangers happened to be there to greet us. Their contrasting physical appearances made them look like characters from a sitcom that needs to be made. One was tall, dark, and fit, while the other was shorter, bald, and a little rotund. Despite their comical appearance, the news they brought with them out of the wilderness was sobering. Two hikers suffered from heat exhaustion and had to get airlifted out of the desert. The shade that blessed us so abundantly on the first day would not be with us on Dodson Trail, but we had trained for this. We "cooked" our dry meals, set up camp, and ended what would be the longest leg of the trail, 15 miles.

We finally arrived at the cache spot and our first campsite, just before sunset. Two park rangers happened to be there to greet us. Their contrasting physical appearances made them look like characters from a sitcom that needs to be made. One was tall, dark, and fit, while the other was shorter, bald, and a little rotund. Despite their comical appearance, the news they brought with them out of the wilderness was sobering. Two hikers suffered from heat exhaustion and had to get airlifted out of the desert. The shade that blessed us so abundantly on the first day would not be with us on Dodson Trail, but we had trained for this. We "cooked" our dry meals, set up camp, and ended what would be the longest leg of the trail, 15 miles.

 The sun greeted us the next morning with a rapid rise in temperature. Sixty degrees may sound pretty cold, but it is not when trekking roller coaster hills with no shade while wearing a 40 pound backpack.  This did prove to be the most trying day. The heat caused me to change my zip-off pants into shorts mode, which helps to keep cool but at the cost of having your legs exposed to the angry desert plants. Every plant in Big Bend, except the grass, has thorns or spikes or needles or something sharp and pointy. Every plant. I also took a severe misstep. My Solomon boots saved my ankles yet again, but the strain went straight to my knee.

The sun greeted us the next morning with a rapid rise in temperature. Sixty degrees may sound pretty cold, but it is not when trekking roller coaster hills with no shade while wearing a 40 pound backpack.

This did prove to be the most trying day. The heat caused me to change my zip-off pants into shorts mode, which helps to keep cool but at the cost of having your legs exposed to the angry desert plants. Every plant in Big Bend, except the grass, has thorns or spikes or needles or something sharp and pointy. Every plant. I also took a severe misstep. My Solomon boots saved my ankles yet again, but the strain went straight to my knee.

 A much deserve rest awaited us at our water cache at the end of the Dodson. It was nothing short of a miracle I made it. My knee impeded my steps, constantly in pain. I had to carefully place every step, trying to keep as much weight off my injured leg as possible - a hard task when you're walking. I legitimately feared I would have to cut my journey short at the next cache spot. Luckily, Blake (right) brought lots of ibuprofen. I popped four of them and my knee was as good as new! For a few hours, at least.

A much deserve rest awaited us at our water cache at the end of the Dodson. It was nothing short of a miracle I made it. My knee impeded my steps, constantly in pain. I had to carefully place every step, trying to keep as much weight off my injured leg as possible - a hard task when you're walking. I legitimately feared I would have to cut my journey short at the next cache spot. Luckily, Blake (right) brought lots of ibuprofen. I popped four of them and my knee was as good as new! For a few hours, at least.

 In order to get a jump start on the next day, we decided to hike as far as possible before sunset. This was my favorite part of the trip. The trail was a dry creek that passed through one of the most beautiful canyons I have seen. The orange rock illuminated everything by brilliantly reflecting the setting sunlight. I wish it could have lasted hours, but it didn't.  Time was of the essence! The surrounding vegetation was very thick and not conducive to setting up camp, and we were running out of sunlight. The ibuprofen was also wearing off. It wasn't until after dark that we found a spot. It was barely large enough to fit both tents and slanted just enough that I would wake up at night having slid off my sleeping pad.

In order to get a jump start on the next day, we decided to hike as far as possible before sunset. This was my favorite part of the trip. The trail was a dry creek that passed through one of the most beautiful canyons I have seen. The orange rock illuminated everything by brilliantly reflecting the setting sunlight. I wish it could have lasted hours, but it didn't.

Time was of the essence! The surrounding vegetation was very thick and not conducive to setting up camp, and we were running out of sunlight. The ibuprofen was also wearing off. It wasn't until after dark that we found a spot. It was barely large enough to fit both tents and slanted just enough that I would wake up at night having slid off my sleeping pad.

 The situation was dire the gloomy dawn of the third day. The pain in my knee had been waking me up throughout the night and was no better in the morning. I feared a mountain lion would notice my injury and pick me off as I straggled behind. An ibuprofen breakfast was my only hope to brighten our future. It brought me to maybe 40%, but that would have to be good enough. This was the coldest day, with a high in the forties, but the clouds rolled back shortly after we packed up.

The situation was dire the gloomy dawn of the third day. The pain in my knee had been waking me up throughout the night and was no better in the morning. I feared a mountain lion would notice my injury and pick me off as I straggled behind. An ibuprofen breakfast was my only hope to brighten our future. It brought me to maybe 40%, but that would have to be good enough. This was the coldest day, with a high in the forties, but the clouds rolled back shortly after we packed up.

 With all the strength we had left, we hiked back up the mountain from the deep, dark valley. Once we were up there, we had to hike back down to finish. The flurry from the night before had covered the downhill trail with snow. It was the first snow I had seen in Texas in 6 years, and it was in a desert. Texas is crazy, man.  At this point, we were all ready to be finished and decided to skip another detour to the famous South Rim Trail that would have added an additional 5 miles. Next time.

With all the strength we had left, we hiked back up the mountain from the deep, dark valley. Once we were up there, we had to hike back down to finish. The flurry from the night before had covered the downhill trail with snow. It was the first snow I had seen in Texas in 6 years, and it was in a desert. Texas is crazy, man.

At this point, we were all ready to be finished and decided to skip another detour to the famous South Rim Trail that would have added an additional 5 miles. Next time.

 We made it! We were tired, bruised, scratched, bleeding. I was limping for the rest of the trip, but it was all worth it. This is the longest hike I have ever done, and we celebrated with beer. It was my first beer of the year, and I saved it for this very moment.  I truly believe you don't experience Texas fully until you've gone to Big Bend. We all came out on the other side of this trail with a much greater appreciation of what Texas has to offer in its backyard.

We made it! We were tired, bruised, scratched, bleeding. I was limping for the rest of the trip, but it was all worth it. This is the longest hike I have ever done, and we celebrated with beer. It was my first beer of the year, and I saved it for this very moment.

I truly believe you don't experience Texas fully until you've gone to Big Bend. We all came out on the other side of this trail with a much greater appreciation of what Texas has to offer in its backyard.

 After cooking a chili dinner, it was time to truly treat ourselves. We walked down a short trail that ran along The Rio Grande, the end of our country. Our destination was hidden behind the high grass. A hot spring is nestled on the bank of the river, separated from the river by a manmade wall, which I hear used to belong to a bath house back in the day. We soaked in the steaming bath, listening to nothing but the soothing river, until the only light you could see came from the stars. All our senses were immersed in Big Bend. It was the most perfect spot in Texas, and it was all ours.

After cooking a chili dinner, it was time to truly treat ourselves. We walked down a short trail that ran along The Rio Grande, the end of our country. Our destination was hidden behind the high grass. A hot spring is nestled on the bank of the river, separated from the river by a manmade wall, which I hear used to belong to a bath house back in the day. We soaked in the steaming bath, listening to nothing but the soothing river, until the only light you could see came from the stars. All our senses were immersed in Big Bend. It was the most perfect spot in Texas, and it was all ours.


Thanks for reading! If you made it this far, you might be interested in seeing more photos. I have uploaded more to my Flickr account, which includes pictures of more iconic Big Bend landmarks like Santa Elena Canyon, Balance Rock, and the beautiful night sky. You're also always welcome to follow me on Instagram or subscribe to my newsletter if you want to keep up with my goings on.

If you ever want tips on how to do outdoors or other adventure stuff, let me know! I love helping people get outside.