In 2002 I moved to Boston to join a group of civilian volunteers called City Year. We were a mish-mash group of young adult idealists from all walks of life serving the neighborhoods of Boston. Every morning we started our day with PT in Copley Square in front of hundreds of people heading to work and school. They saw us cheer, and chant as we did jumping jacks, mountain climbers and burpees. We were a motivated riot of hope in our bright red jackets and khakis.
On Sept 11th, 2002, we set up a huge memorial at Copley Square. Hundreds of feet of white paper on laid the sides on the square with thousands of permanent markers. Behind the signs were these six feet high words erected behind them: PEACE, SALAAM, SHALOM, SHANTI. Peace in English, Arabic, Hebrew, and Hindi. City Year was there along with various clergy members of different faiths to offer counsel to anyone desiring it.
As the sun rose over the memorial, I saw so many people in awe of the transformation that had taken place overnight. They started writing prayers, messages of peace, words of grief, and quotes of change in every language possible. I saw many people crying, hugging each other in comfort. I also saw many angry faces, their looks pointed directly at anyone who wasn’t clearly a white American. There were some tense moments. A co-volunteer of mine, who wore a hijab, was given several choice remarks throughout the day until finally a group of men of several stood by her. No one will mess with a girl in a hijab being protected by two black and white men who looked as if they belonged on a NFL team. One from Mattapan, the other a former neo-nazi.
The worse moment was when a Muslim man broke down in front of the word SALAAM, crying distraught tears. . Another co-volunteer of mine, a practicing Buddhist, ran to his side when no one else would. This teeny tiny girl was not afraid of this man or his religion. She held him tightly because he was heartbroken just like the rest of us. I found myself weeping watching them. For the family and friends lost, a brother and best friends serving across seas, for the end of peace as we had known it.
So I prayed where I stood. I prayed with my friends, with strangers, with anyone who was hurting. It didn’t matter where they were from, what they believed, or who they loved. We were not all Americans, or Christians. That day, we were all grieving.
So I offer this to you. Our world has changed so much since this Sept 11th attack. Instead of holding onto the anger and hurt. Today, lets treat each other with a little less judgement and a little more kindness, understanding, and patience. A better world lies within each of us.
SALAAM, SHALOM, SHANTI, PEACE
Not just for some, but for all.
http://www.gbio.org/ – Greater Boston Interfaith Organization