Because Life can only be lived a moment at a time.

Retreat. Refresh. Regroup.

What a difference a week makes.

The cornfield crackled as I walked by yesterday, the dead stalks bending in an October breeze. A scene of harvest and of endings. It made me think of the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania, a place of water and color, a place to find refreshment as our nation endures a brittle election season.

The scene below Cucumber Falls, Ohiopyle State Park

A week ago Mr. Pettit and I traveled there for our last camping trip of the year. It's time to put our trailer---affectionately called "Kermit" due to its frog decal---away for the winter.

We spent the first day of our trip exploring Ohiopyle State Park. We clambered over boulders and climbed up and down hillsides to watch the Youghiogheny River at work. 

We heard the water long before we saw it. And when our eyes could take in what our ears had perceived---the sunlight illuminating the mist as the torrent continued its relentless path through the mountains, trees thinned of leaves bearing witness---all of the stress of the 24-hour news cycle faded.

We let the autumnal sunshine bake into our bones as we listened to the music of the river, written by the Composer of all good things before time began.

The names of all those killed on September 11, 2001

The next day we turned our attention from natural wonders to man made tragedy. First we visited the Flight 93 National Memorial outside Shanksville. You know the story: The passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 93 fought back against the terrorists who sought to use their plane as a missile against a target in Washington D.C. (most likely the U.S. Capitol). They died when the hijackers decided to crash the plane. 

We watched a loop of the television news coverage of the day: From the first reports of a plane hitting one of the World Trade Center towers, to the collapse of one tower, then another, to the terrible burning gash in the side of the Pentagon, to the blackened field in Pennsylvania. 

We saw artifacts from Flight 93's wreckage and portraits of the passengers and crew. Not only portraits, but spontaneous family photos, moments of joy frozen in time. 

A marble wall adjacent to the crash site honors the dead
There were boxes of tissues scattered throughout the exhibit---I've never seen tissues at any of the National Park Service sites we've visited before---but I didn't need any until I listened to the messages left on answering machines by two of the women aboard Flight 93. These weren't reenactments; they were the actual voices of people who knew they probably wouldn't see their loved ones again, not in this life anyway. Different women, different families, the same sentiment, over and over: "I love you."

The crash site itself is more than the scene of a battle between good and evil: It is the final resting place of all those aboard.  I was reminded of our visit to the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor, where 1,177 sailors and Marines are entombed. A sense of reverence, even awe, settled on most of the visitors. We walked quietly along the wall separating us from the site and some left remembrances behind: A flag, some flowers, a note in a child's handwriting saying "I am ralesle sorey."

The viewing areas with railings are all that remain of the 72-foot-high dam
Around 45 minutes from the Flight 93 memorial is another National Park Service site: the Johnstown Flood National Memorial. On the afternoon of May 31, 1889, the South Fork Dam gave way, sending the 20 million tons of water contained in Lake Conemaugh rushing down the valley toward Johnstown, Pennsylvania. According to the Park Service brochure, the lake broke through the dam "at the velocity and depth of the Niagara River as it goes over the falls." More than 2,200 people were killed. Among the dead were 99 families.

The Park Service brochure says the owner of the dam, the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, did not maintain it properly but over time the people of Johnstown and surrounding communities stopped worrying about it. One survivor, Victor Heiser, is quoted as saying, "The townspeople, like those who live in the shadow of Vesuvius, grew calloused to the possibility of danger." 

We packed a lot into a short stay: A day of restoration followed by a day of contemplation. And I returned home with a re-calibrated perspective. I still care about the outcome of this election, but I was reminded of the bigger picture. 

God made a beautiful world and He invites us to enjoy it. Pray for the strength to do what's right, even (and especially) in extreme circumstances. Never pass up the chance to tell your loved ones how you feel. And strive to appreciate each moment, because you never know when a flood, whether literal or metaphorical, will come roaring down the valley.

It Is Well