Ten years ago, in the days following the attacks upon our country on September 11, 2001, our nation was in collective shock and deeply grief-stricken. For weeks it was unclear whether or not other attacks were coming, and so I decided to cancel our first fall retreat of the new school year for Quaker children. I felt strongly that it was more important for children to be with their families during the early throws of our national tragedy than for them to be on a hilltop retreat center at Woolman Hill in western Massachusetts.
Understanding how evil can manifest itself in the hearts and minds of the human psyche is challenging enough to unpack among adults. It is ten-times more difficult to make sense of something like this with children who ask and worry and draw what they felt and saw on that crystal-clear day ten years ago tomorrow. Those of us who work with, and minister among, children and teens in all sorts of tender life situations had our work cut out in the weeks and months following that day.
Weeks later while riding my bike, which was only a week away from our next planned retreat, I was pondering how best to present what had happened on Nine-Eleven. What would be our collective response to the Quaker children in our community? And how would our Quaker peace testimony hold up in these scary and challenging times among Friends overall? These children, in grades two through six, would certainly want to talk about what happened. And they’d expect not only responses, but honest and direct answers.
During my ride it was especially windy and as I rode through a grove of hardwoods, an even stronger gust blew through. Suddenly it began raining acorns, that fell from the trees, bounced noisily off of my helmet and literally covering the road ahead of me. For several seconds I could hear nothing but acorns bouncing about and I had all I could do to keep my bike from skidding into the ditch.
As fast as that happened it was over. I peddled out of the grove and instantly knew what our approach would be at our retreat on the following weekend. I was struck by the clarity that somehow came to me at that moment, knowing that through reflection and collective prayer, we’d somehow make sense of it all.
As I peddled onward and thought about the “raining acorns” just moments ago, and the clarity that came out of it, I thought, “news from an acorn!” It made me grin. And it was from that moment and phrase too, that the idea and title for this blog was born.
Now, ten years later, I’m a week away from our first fall retreat at the same location and just as many days after the anniversary of Nine-Eleven. Nearly all of the children coming to this retreat were not even born ten years ago. It’s a wonder just to think about that, knowing all that has, and has not happened, since. Ironically, the theme for our upcoming retreat is “Give Time Time,” which in all honesty was chosen months ago with no deliberate thought to Nine-Eleven. But then again, maybe something else was at work there too.
Last week I asked one of my clients at work what his thoughts were about the upcoming anniversary. “I was three when it happened,” he said. “I wish they’d just stop talking about it, really.” When I asked him why he said, “Because it makes me scared.”
The next day I ran into an old client who is now in college. He’s tall, handsome, bright and confident in his third year of college. Eight years ago at age thirteen he was dismantling and rebuilding old pc’s that people had given him.
When I asked him what he was majoring in he said, “Cyber Security and threat analysis.”
“Threat analysis?” I said. “I’ve never heard of that as a major.”
“Yeah, well…things have changed,” he said. “The next time we need to be ready.”
“The next time?” I said. “I’m hoping there won’t be a next time.”
“That’s why I choose that major,” he said with a grin.
And I believe him, and I believe too, that time brings healing, hope, new acorns and in time, new understanding.