September 11, 2017
“If we learn nothing else from this tragedy, we learn that life is short and there is no time for hate.” -Sandy Dahl, wife of Flight 93 pilot Jason Dahl, in Shanksville, Pa., in 2002
The night before 9/11 twenty-four Ireland travelers, registered for my first tour, convened at O’Connor’s Pub in Portland. The excitement was palpable as we made final plans to depart Portland on Friday, Sept. 14. I went to sleep that night with a big smile on my face, knowing everything was in place. The next morning the smile was replaced by a face that registered shock and devastation.
My stepson, 12 years old and about to start middle school, phoned us from his mom’s house. “Turn on the television,” he whispered. Together we watched in horror what unfolded over the next hour or so. At one point I asked him if he was okay. He replied, again in a whisper, “Is this the beginning of World War III?” I told him I didn’t know, while reminding him that he was safe. I asked him if he wanted me to come get him. “No,” he said, “I want to go to school.” That’s when I remembered I had to be at a Waldorf school at 9:00am for my weekly Life Lessons storytelling adventure with a group of second graders. I hadn’t a clue what I was going to say.
I somberly entered the classroom to find the children gathered around the feet of Mrs. Johnson, all with looks of devastation on their innocent faces. “Pastor Kate is here,” she cried out. “She will help us.” Suddenly I had my own little nest of baby chicks gathered around me, looking for guidance and meaning. My story went something like this.
Far back in time, when the first babies were born, the Creator gave each of them a heart. It would be the place where Love lives. (I invited the children to place their hands on their hearts.)
Like a drum, the hearts would beat, making a thump, thump sound, so we could hear them and remember Love. (We made the sounds together.)
At first the heart beats came at different times. But soon they came into rhythm. All hearts beat together, from the North Pole to the South Pole, from America to Africa, reminding us that we are one human family, created to express Love, together. Now, let’s close our eyes and feel the love coming from our hearts. (At last, smiles began to return to their little faces.)
But over time some grownups started to tie strings around their hearts. (In a pretend mean voice I asked the children to pretend to tie up their hearts, making mean sounds as well.)
Like a ball of yarn, soon some of these hearts were nearly covered up and invisible. And so was their Love. It was replaced by fear and hate. Show me what fear and hate looks like on your faces. (Imagine their expressions.)
And that is what happened this morning. Some grownups, with fear and hate in their hearts, caused great pain and sadness for many, many people, us included. I know I’m feeling sad, and a little bit scared. (At this point I invited the children to quietly say aloud what they were feeling.)
So here’s what our job is today. We must un-tie the strings of our hearts. Ready, get set, go! (Chaos ensued as the boys and girls ran and tumbled around the room, pretending to let fly the many invisible heart strings. Eventually we came back into circle.)
Now feel the Love in your heart. (Another round of thump, thumps.)
Can you feel the love again? (Cries of yes, yes, yes echoed through the classroom.)
This is what we must remember today. Most people are good and they let their love shine. But some tie up their hearts with fear and hate. Fear of people who are different than they are. Hate because of skin colors unlike their own. Or fear of different languages from around the world. Maybe hate because of different beliefs about presidents, countries, or even God. But what’s true is this. Every human has a heart, even the people who did the bad things this morning. The Creator intended the human heart to be where Love lives. Let’s make a pact today to let our Love shine, even if we feel sad or afraid. How about we all connect pinky fingers. Look around our circle. Are we one family? (“Yes,” they shouted in unison. Slowly I began to sing “This Little Light of Mine.” The children joined in. We separated that morning with big smiles on our faces and young hearts once again at peace.)
It wasn’t until I got home that morning that I wondered if the horrific events of 9/11 would cause the Ireland tour to be cancelled. As 9/11 unfolded, and then 9/12, I realized on 9/13 that the 9/14 tour departure would not happen. It was declared an international day of mourning. I felt horrible knowing I had to phone the twenty-four travelers with bad news. That’s when it occurred to me, my own Life Lesson. We were merely inconvenienced, while millions were devastated. We would not go to the airport on 9/14 and demand our flights to Ireland. Instead, I would encourage my travelers to join the world in prayer, reflection and contemplation.
On 9/11/01, and every 9/11 since, I remember that it’s a choice whether to see through the eyes of love or the eyes of fear. To remember that it’s not all about my needs or desires. To always pursue the deeper truth. Missing a tour date was an inconvenience. Loss of thousands of lives was devastation. True to the generous hearts of the Irish people, we were able to move the tour to spring, at no extra cost. The vendors in Ireland took the loss out of respect for their American anam caras, their soul friends.
My plan for today is to sing, whistle and hum “This Little Light of Mine” whenever and wherever it occurs to me to do so. Like the Waldorf second graders (now young adults) I will visualize the joining of pinky fingers, with skins of many colors, reminding us that We Are One, and that we’re all in this together.
Listen to the voice of children singing!