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.
New day, new week, new month and a new opportunity to render the looming five months of this year more meaningful than the first.
Consider re-energizing yourself just because…because you’re worth it.
Try – or start again with- enjoying everyday, abstaining from complaining, believing the best and exemplifying The Golden Rule.
Choose to try – or start again with – reaching for the sun so you’ll land among the stars; viewing setbacks as “set-ups” for amazing opportunities; celebrating every achievement with gratitude; giving thanks for the shoulders upon which you stand; appreciating the blessing in every life lesson; embracing others as they are and where they are (and extending that same grace to yourself).
Recognize the many “presents” that the present is providing; live on purpose and in your purpose, and have fun along the way. Each day really is a gift; do your best to enjoy it and invite others on the journey with you.
Won’t be easy all the time, but it will be worth your efforts at every turn – and hopefully contagious.
I’m sharing this “public service announcement” to persevere for whoever needs it (and just know, that sometimes it’s me).
If it’s not you today, pass it on!
Keep breathing – your deep-in-the-valley season is just a pitstop.
Keep dancing – the swirling storm will find it harder to touch you.
Keep believing – beauty can indeed be birthed from ashes.
Keep trusting yourself – you’re a prize worth cherishing, at home, at work and everywhere in between.
Keep paying attention – to your heart, to your gut, to what people show you rather than what they say, and to what you know to be true. Trusting yourself will never lead you wrong.
Keep laughing – it’s medicine for your soul, and everything doesn’t have to be so serious.
Most importantly? Just keep on keeping on.
I promise you, your best days are ahead, no matter your age, stage or circumstances.
Your job is to persist in excellence, love with an open heart, set appropriate boundaries, welcome peace and treasure your joys.
I’m living proof (and there are so many tangible examples around) that it’s all doable. Join me on this Life Untapped journey in your own way and in your own time. Just promise me, and yourself, that you’ll keep going.
Today, pay attention to the little things – words spoken or unspoken; gestures rendered or withheld; opportunities offered or missed; your struggle between fear and confidence, or maybe a focus on all that’s wrong instead of dwelling in the beauty of all that’s right.
Watch yourself and others, and consider the consequences of words and actions; listen with your heart as well as with your ears; assess whether being glass half-full or glass half-empty serves you best.
Change whatever you must to grow and be content; and give others the space and the grace to do the same.
Stretching and growing isn’t always easy, but having the courage to embrace the process (while being thoughtful and respectful of others) can guide you to greater places, both within and without.
The best kind of challenge to undertake is one with yourself, for yourself. It’s worth it to you to circumvent roadblocks, push past fear or doubt, seek knowledge to help you grow, and love yourself as you are, so that you’re prepared to step into all you’re becoming. Envision that version of you and welcome it.
A few weeks ago my athlete son proudly told me about his 4-mile run in the “very safe” neighborhood that surrounds the university he attends. My anxiety level instantly rose.
I reminded him, yet again, that he has to be careful, because unfortunately, some of those neighbors may simply see “a black man running” and do some harm.
It is hard for him to see himself as other than how he describes himself – a good kid – in a world that continues to see skintones and complexion first. It is also hard for me to have to repeatedly burst his bubble.
I am mindful that many are struggling with similar concerns and have been triggered by headlines (the accosted Army officer; the shooting in Minnesota) and other ugly realities this week. I’ve talked to young and older, male and female, in my circle and have tried to offer support.
And I am intent on remaining an optimist, helping realize the day when my son and your son and all of us can jog without worry, drive without fear and simply exist without pause.
We owe it to ourselves and future generations to keep trying to manifest this more just world, so that all mothers and fathers, and aunts and uncles, and godparents and friends, and spouses and partners can sleep well each night, without stressing about a loved one’s ethnicity impacting his or her ability to make it home.