I was in graduate school. I woke up, drove to school, and caught the tail end of a radio broadcast that said a plane was flown into the World Trade Center. I thought to myself “that’s terrible, that poor pilot”. I assumed it was a small prop plane. I walked into the school, and worked on some client notes before class. My supervisor saw me, and I can’t forget the look on his face. All morning, as we sat there, we all started to grasp the extent of what had happened, that this wasn’t a horrible accident but an act of aggression. Feelings changed from sadness to shock to denial to anger to grief and back to anger.
At the time, I was doing an internship at the Y.W.C.A, working with elementary school aged girls in an afterschool program. I drove to work that afternoon, wondering what was waiting for me there. Some of these girls were sadly more world aware than I would like them to be, and for some of them, innocence was gone long ago. I walked into a typical scene, some of the girls coloring, and the older ones whispering to each other the things preteen girls whisper about, and nodding like they are experienced and understand. I began the session with telling the girls that it might have been a confusing day for them, and that I wanted to open the discussion up to any questions they might have. The hands flew up, and they started to give me a picture of what it had been like at school- hushed whispers from crying teachers, seeing staff on their cell phones, forgotten lessons, a radio turned down low in the classroom. That girl said- ”I don’t know what they were talking about, but I know it was really really bad.” Most of them had gotten a rough explanation of the morning’s events, and so I stood there and tried to think how can I explain this to these children when I can’t explain it to myself. In the end, I told them that this was a better discussion for their parents, but that I would tell them that sometimes our brains and hearts get sick in a way that makes us behave in ways that hurt ourselves and others. I explained that some men were probably sick in those ways and also had decided to choose to hate others had hurt many people today, and that the grown ups in their school and home were very sad about it.
After I got them settled into an assignment, I walked around. One girl, a little girl named Lexi, was sitting by herself, doing some math homework. I knew Lexi was a quiet and sensitive girl, and I also knew her father was in the military. I sat down to her and asked her how her day was. She sighed and said “really really sad.” My heart ached at this, and I wondered if she was worried about her father. I asked her what the saddest part of today was and she said “I know that those men did a really terrible thing and I’m kind of mad about it.” I acknowledged that I was mad about it too and that it was okay to be mad, and that she could talk to me about it if she wanted to. She shrugged, and I stood up to help the next girl. I started to walk away and she said “Ms.Brandy, I think the moms are sad.” I asked her “which moms honey?”, and she looked up and said “their moms. The men. I bet their moms are really sad that they did this. I’m sad because I bet their moms are crying. I don’t like it when my mom cries. Why didn’t the men think about their moms crying?”
I tried, I really did. I tried not to cry in front of these girls. But I couldn’t contain the tears then. I had no answer for her except “I don’t know.”
I’m a mom now, and as any mom knows, it is easy to get angry when your child is wronged or hurt. My heart aches for the moms of the men and women who were killed due to this act of hate. But in a part of my heart, there is the memory of a fourth grade girl, quiet and unassuming, reminding me to think beyond how a situation affects just me and the people I love.
Luke 10:25-37-The lawyer asks Jesus “so who is my neighbor?”
What is the scope of “neighbor”? How far does that extend and when does it end? These are the questions he was subtly asking. But Jesus know that when we start trying to find exceptions to his commands, we aren’t much interested in obeying them. He doesn’t respond with a legal definition of neighbor, he responds with a parable that then asks the question of not who is my neighbor, but who am I a neighbor to?
So wait, how far am I supposed to take this neighbor stuff? Well, how far did He take it? Did He die for the firefighters who rushed in to rescue others or did He die for them and for the men that flew the airplanes into the buildings?
I am thankful for a fourth grader who spoke more compassion and any newscaster I watched that day. And today I am praying that He develops that kind of compassion and love in me.