September 11. I'm riding the subway into work, an adult day treatment center for folks living with HIV. We have coordinated an interdisciplinary program entitled, "Healing Ourselves, Healing Community."
These words invite an experience of connecting with two significant questions: "what keeps me going?" and "what's important right now?"
I often return to these questions and ask them with clients and colleagues alike. They are useful questions when considering another: How does one structure a healing program that has the potential to reach everyone and include everything?
Preparing for this day, some folks tell me they would prefer to forget. Some need to grieve. Many want to look ahead while finding meaning and purpose.
I serve in this setting as a clinical chaplain. Today, I'm working closely with Diana, the Director of Creative Arts Therapies. We consider our resources. With very limited funds, we focus on the resources of creativity, connection, and community. As a cook might look in the cupboard for ingredients, we play with what and who is available.
We set up a poster with the words, "Keep the ball rolling: Be the Change." It shows a soccer ball with an image of world continents superimposed. "Be the Change," Gandhi's call to action, seems fitting in a location just north of what became Ground Zero eight years earlier.
We place a basket filled with short pieces of white ribbon. beside it is an invitation to "add your spark" along with guidelines:
"Make a healing wish, then place your ribbon, adding your spark, on the board."
Within an hour, the board is shining with white ribbons.
Later that evening, I join hundreds of folks in a floating lantern ceremony on the Hudson River.
It is offered by the NY Buddhist Church in partnership with Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, the Interfaith Center of NY, and the Buddhist Council of NY. As clouds drift over the moon, lanterns with heartfelt messages are set afloat on the river by the NY Kayak Club.
I sing softly into a microphone as Rev. Nakagaki rings a big bell. The melody and words float out into the night:
"A star at dawn. A bubble in a stream. A flash of lightening in a summer cloud.
A flickering lamp. . . so is this fleeting world."
This verse from the the Diamond Sutra, a Buddhist teaching, is one of many offered, along with comforting words and music from diverse spiritual and cultural traditions. Sikh friends prepare a vegetarian dinner for everyone. Waiting in line, I meet strangers and become friends. I place my bowl over the largest soup pot I've ever seen. Looking up, a new friend meets me in a smile. We sit together and eat.
The next day, I join with friends from the Grafton Peace Pagoda in walking through Harlem. Since 2002, they walk nearly 200 miles in ten days, beginning on September 11 in New York City with a peace vigil. Theirs is a peacewalk open to anyone who wants to join, be it for an hour, a day, or the entire journey. I join for an afternoon.
As we walk, people smile. Sometimes, we bow our heads in acknowledgement. Occasionally, we playfully gesture with little kids along the way. We're a strange sight in the neighborhood. Some view us with suspicion. The process invites focus and commitment to intention. What is "peace" in this moment? How am I walking?
A song pops into my head, Johnny Cash singing, "I walk the line." He wrote that song facing addiction and its impact on those he loved. During the process, he slowly learned to love himself and turn his life around. He became deeply committed to walking his talk, visiting Folsom Prison and relating to their experience as his own. He sang his heart out.
Johnny wore black. He discovered light intermingled with darkness and met people there. Continuing to walk, I feel that sense of complete transparency, that willingness to be vulnerable to whatever and whoever shows up.
On these Harlem streets, sounds call attention. The boom bass connects with a stream of syncopated words, latest hip hop. These sounds rise and fall as we walk into other rhythms, those of salsa and merengue.
Time change. Neighborhoods shift. What's important right now?
No time for weighty considerations. A kid maybe five years old waves to me. I wave back. The light turns green. He stays beside his mom. We move on. As we get closer to the George Washington bridge, we stop on a street corner, saying goodbye. No need for words. We all feel the pulse. The smiles come naturally. Some bow gently.
The light changes. I turn and pause for a moment. My feet remember another way to go. I cross the street and head towards the river.