If you are of a certain age, you’re among the many of us who have a September 11, 2001 “Where were you?” story.
Mine involved focusing on things that have long mattered most to me:
striving to be a caring mother
striving to be a courageous storyteller
intentionally using my words to make a difference.
That day was my first day back at work as a newspaper reporter, after a 12-week maternity leave.
I’d placed my infant son in his babysitter’s arms and dropped off my daughter at a nearby preschool, and was settling at my desk just before 8 a.m. in the quiet newsroom.
Suddenly, a photographer ran past me and yelled to turn on the TV – a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers in New York City. Then a friend called to welcome me back and to share that she’d just seen live news reports about the plane crash. Together, we watched as a second plane hit the second tower, and we knew the world had changed.
After reminding myself that both of my kids were in good care, with people who loved them and would keep them safe, I did what journalists do – went right into reporter mode, knowing that I’d have to somehow help make sense of this madness for residents of Central Virginia and beyond.
Within the hour, I was driving down a winding road south of the city to visit a local mosque. Despite growing fears for safety in the wake of the terrorists attacks, the Imam (spiritual leader) trusted me enough to let me inside the building, which was teeming with young children, because it doubled as a daycare and preschool.
There was mayhem. The phones kept ringing with death threats, frightened parents showed up to pick up their children and the Imam sought to keep everyone calm.
I saw fear and hurt in his eyes, both over the tragedy that had occurred in our nation and over the need to defend himself and the Muslims he knew and loved. He requested that I use my news article to remind people that not all Muslims are terrorists and that he, too, was grieving.
On my drive back to the Richmond Times-Dispatch newsroom, the radio waves were eerily silent and my cell phone wouldn’t work. I returned to learn from colleagues about the attack at the Pentagon and the crash of another plane that was believed to be headed to Washington, D.C.
I sat at my desk and wrote about the Imam’s plea for people to look past ethnicity and into hearts, and not to harm Americans who looked him or those in his spiritual care because of the hateful and evil acts of others – acts he also denounced.
That conversation with him, and witnessing the distress at the mosque that day, led me to write a year-long series of newspaper columns about people of various faiths – Muslims, Quakers, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians and more – and to use their personal journeys to educate readers about the principles of each religion, so that perhaps we could really “see” our neighbors, colleagues and strangers and find some common ground.
What my readers (and I ) discovered through my columns is that regardless of the different commandments, laws and practices of the various faiths, the primary mandate of absolutely ALL of them is to LOVE, and to use love as a guide to honor God, live peaceably with others and flow positively through this world.
Sometimes love must be giving.
Sometimes love must be sacrificial.
Sometimes love sets boundaries.
All of the time love can heal and produce hope.
This isn’t as easy at it sounds, of course, which is why people of faith are always “practicing” their faith. But leading with love never fails and never goes out of style.
Twenty years later, as we remember this significant and painful day of loss and fear, may we also remember the love that followed in the aftermath. And may we continue striving to look past what we see on the surface and give others’ hearts a chance, while having the courage to share our own.
Someone asked me recently why I routinely see life’s proverbial glass as half-full – especially at times when the tug to focus on half-empty is just as strong.
I don’t have an elaborate, philosophical reason; and the truth is we all have bad days, sad days and the like. This is what makes us imperfectly human, and I’m right there with you.
I’ve learned through living, however, that our journey is what we make it, and the hours we’re given each day can be eaten up with negativity or treated as the treasures they are.
I’ve had a sister survive a double lung transplant, friends survive a devastating fire and several others surmount cancer. I’ve lost loved ones, tangible treasures and valuable opportunities. This has ingrained in me to take no one and nothing for granted. And through it all, I’ve kept my eyes on what’s most important – powerful lessons learned, deeper relationships with those who remain, a stronger sense of self, beautiful surprises and unexpected blessings.
I’ve also remembered that God loves me most, and clung to choices that make my heart smile.
Those things are my “whys” and they drive me to keep seeking joy on my journey, appreciating the simple aspects of each day, and serving others with my gifts and personal passions.
What drives you or lights your way?
Give this question some serious thought, and when the answer comes, embrace it. Honor your “whys” and you’ll walk in the power of being a unique and necessary gift to this world.
I’ve connected with quite a few writer friends this week and it has fueled my creativity in ways that I didn’t realize I missed so much during the pandemic.
Two of the catchups were one-on-one reunions over a meal, and both of those friends/mentors reminded me that writing is important work – to be leaned into, wrestled with, granted free reign, yet relented to with finesse, because words hold power and stories help us understand each other; and when we put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, sometimes we even surprise ourselves at the important truths, wounds, dreams, hopes, fears, strength and more that lie just beneath the surface.
Whether we’re writing fiction or nonfiction, that power – and responsibility – are the same.
My other gathering with writers was filled with amazing talent and wisdom too, and left me with an inner glow.
I share all of this to note that as I’ve spent time at my keyboard after hours and in the wee hours of morning this week, editing others work and also nurturing my own work-in-progress, I’ve felt more grateful than ever for the gift of words and writing, and for the opportunity to speak to the world in a manner that can endure.
What part of your purpose or your journey are you most grateful for this week? Acknowledge it and celebrate it in some way.
Welcome to June. We’re halfway through another historic year!
In light of young tennis star Naomi Osaka’s dramatic (and courageous) decision a few days ago to put her dreams on hold and practice self-care, I share the sentiments in this post as a reminder to all of us that what matters most is not material gain nor worldly success.
It is what flows into and from the heart that can make you or break you.
Let us live and lead with more empathy, truth and love, because everyone, at every level, needs it.
You never know what someone else is going through behind that smile, that frown, that fear, that anger, those actions or that attitude. So give everyone grace, because they don’t know your full story either.
Love is a word that’s often misused or misunderstood. But it’s also a reflection of giving, serving, leading, and leaning into doing your best to be part of others’ peace, fulfillment, joy and growth.
Love is hard, especially when it’s being executed by imperfect beings. Yet, given that it’s the foundation of all humanity, it’s also worth it – even when it means persisting at it, or letting go, or being more vulnerable, or standing tough.
Work hard at loving yourself more deeply so that it becomes effortless to give the best TO yourself, and in the process, pour out a more authentic, loyal and lasting love to others. Hate won’t end until we push harder to help love win.