The grace to remember

I went to the Garden of Reflection in Yardley today. The park commemorates 911 and the lives lost — in the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, Shanksville, Pa.

The energy of the space belies the horror and evil we all felt and experienced. The memorial exudes peace. Two fountains spurt upward, an ethereal remembrance of the towers, and a circular wall lists the names of those who died.

Surrounded by vast green farmlands and thick, sweet woods, the garden is surrounded by an other-worldly silence. Today, many came to walk there, as I did. And remember.

The weather was much the same was it was that day in 2001. Deep blue skies without a cloud, bright sun, a temperate breeze.

I read the names. These people came to work that day, perhaps were thinking about meetings, phone calls, what they would be doing later that evening — dinner with family or friends.

And then.

I kept walking the circle. Some family members had placed vases with roses, or a single rose, beneath their loved one’s name. Many who died were from this area, including one of the pilots.

As I took in the energy of these names, I was reminded: Each was loved. Each had a mother, father, sister, brother, aunt or uncle, daughter or son, a friend — someone who cherished them.

I sat on a bench beneath a shady tree. I thought of all that has happened in our world since then. All that is still happening. Those suffering from hurricanes Harvey and Irma, an earthquake in Mexico, wildfires and excessive heat and droughts, the threat of nuclear war.

I thought of my own personal situation, how each day dad declines and his care becomes more difficult, and how so many in our world are struggling and suffering in even more horrendous circumstances.

In his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People, Harold Kushner writes:

“Pain is the price we pay for being alive. Dead cells—our hair, our fingernails—can’t feel pain; they cannot feel anything. When we understand that, our question will change from, “Why do we have to feel pain?” to “What do we do with our pain so that it becomes meaningful and not just pointless empty suffering?” 

I’m still struggling with that question.

I have met those in my life who have transformed their suffering — those who have lost spouses or children who end up helping those in similar situations, or those who have been addicted who get into recovery and then become drug and alcohol counselors. And some, who because of the pain they’ve suffered, open up to others with more compassion and love.

And I’ve met yet others who have sunk into their grief or sorrow with bitterness and despair.

Many times we want it all to go away. Or we pray to God for miracles. Kushner says:

“We can’t pray that God make our lives free of problems; this won’t happen, and it is probably just as well. We can’t ask Him to make us and those we love immune to diseases, because He can’t do that. We can’t ask Him to weave a magic spell around us so that bad things will only happen to other people, and never to us.

People who pray for miracles usually don’t get miracles, any more than children who pray for bicycles, good grades, or good boyfriends get them as a result of praying. But people who pray for courage, for strength to bear the unbearable, for the grace to remember what they have left instead of they have lost, very often find their prayer answered.”  

I left the park, praying for all of us — for courage and strength to bear the unbearable, to remember with gratitude what we have left, instead of what we have lost.

As I offered the words up to the heavens, I watched a child escape from his mother and run with abandon through the grass, laughing.

A small joy amidst the sorrow. I smiled.

 

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A story of September 11

We all have stories about that day. Where we were. What we were doing. Many here in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, died on September 11. They commuted to nearby New York City and worked in the Twin Towers.

Even now, 14 years later, my heart splits open at the horror of it. But perhaps in telling our stories, we come to some type of healing.

I, too, have a story to tell. It still has a mystical quality to it and like most things in my life, I have no answers. Some of you have read this before. For those who haven’t, here is my story of September 11.

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Dad was driving me to the Newark Airport and we were chatting about my trip to Medjugorje in the region of Bosnia-Herzegovina. I had thought some day I might like to go there, but really hadn’t had any strong desire.

Then, the oddest thing happened. I felt an inner “urging” — one I’ve not had before or since — and an almost palpable invitation with one word: “Come.”

medjugorje 1

St. James Church with its “twin towers” and a crowd gathered in prayer.

It was gentle, yet persistent. The feeling kept pulling me and wouldn’t go away. So I decided I would travel to this small mountainous village near Croatia where the Blessed Mother has been appearing since 1981 with a message of peace, love and forgiveness.

Many miracles have happened there. Physical, emotional and spiritual healings. And I had my list of those I would pray for and for myself.

I contacted a woman originally from Croatia who organized and ran “Mir” (Peace) pilgrimages. She had some openings for August and September. I chose September.

So, on the late afternoon of September 10, dad and I drove down the NJ Turnpike to the airport. The day was clear and bright, with the stark skyline of New York City in the distance. Dad interrupted our chat and said:

“Now if you get stranded there and can’t get back into the country, don’t worry. You’re going to be OK.”

I looked at my dear father as if he had lost his mind and asked him what he meant. He ignored my question and kept his eyes on the road ahead. In the excitement of my upcoming trip, I let it go.

I joined our group of five waiting in Newark. The remainder of our group was flying in from Boston Logan and meeting us in Frankfurt, Germany. Then, we would all fly on to Split in Croatia and board a bus that would take us along the coastline of the Adriatic Sea and into Medjugorje.

WTC-twin-towers1We arrived in Croatia the morning of September 11. As we took in the beauty of the Adriatic, the bus stopped at a hotel so we could use bathrooms. In the lobby, some of our group had gathered at a TV set. Then I heard cries, wails, moans. What was happening? I walked over to see a plane crashing into buildings. My mind couldn’t comprehend what I was watching. Was America under attack? Were we at war?

We got back on the bus, shaken and in tears. We were only a half hour outside of Medjugorje and knew little of what had happened except that thousands had died. Our tour leader, a deeply spiritual woman, said:

“I usually have 60-70 people each month on these tours. When I had only 18 people sign up, I felt ‘something’ was going to happen, but I wasn’t sure what it might be.”

She then asked us all to pray for those who had died. A faint murmur of rosaries, prayers and sobs fell and rose like the winding mountain roads that led us into the village.

Much like Fatima or Lourdes, the town of Medjugorje was filled with pilgrims from all over the world. They descended on us, telling us in many languages that they were praying for us, for our country. At that time, communication to the U.S. was sparse and I was concerned about loved ones I had left behind. And since the president had locked down all air traffic, I wasn’t sure if — or when — I was getting home.

But throughout those eleven days, with an uncertain future before me — before all of us — I remembered dad’s words and told myself I would be OK, no matter what happened. And I came to realize this: I had been “called” there. I had been issued an invitation to pray for the world. And pray I did. With all my heart. Not for the things I had intended or deemed as important — jobs, relationships, income — but for peace. Peace in our world.

Later, I would realize that the three areas where our group had met — Newark, Boston Logan and Frankfurt — were all key spots where the terrorists had plotted evil. And through those airports we walked as a group (not without a few odd looks) carrying aloft a banner before us that proclaimed “Mir” — PEACE. We were indeed, peace pilgrims.

The evening before we were scheduled to return to the U.S., the president lifted the travel ban and we were able to fly home. It was as if a window had closed behind us after we had arrived in Medjugorje, and then opened to allow us to leave.

PeaceHeartsWorld2What do I make of all this? I don’t know. I still have no answers as to why I felt pulled to be there at that time. But I do know this: Our world desperately needs peace now more than ever before. Each day we wake to more mass shootings. More wars. More human and sex trafficking and cruelty to our brothers and sisters and to our planet.

We must find ways to live in peace. We must. We must. We must. This is all the Blessed Mother keeps asking of us in Medjugorje, as any good mother might. To love one another. To live in peace. All of us. All faiths. All religions. All colors and nations. All peoples.

After I returned, I asked dad why he had been prompted to give me his prophetic message on the way to the airport. He always has been extremely intuitive and simply said, “You needed to hear it.”

So what message do we need to hear? And what can we do in our daily lives to create peace? A smile? A listening heart? Refraining from an unkind word? Ultimately, as many spiritual teachers have said, peace begins with each one of us. The choice is always ours. The world is waiting.