On 9/11, several youth stood at the front of St. John's Cathedral in downtown Los Angeles as part of the Guibord Center's Finding Hope in the Holy celebration service. There were few physical similarities among the kids, owing to race and that pre-teen precipice they'd finally approached. Their experiences -- cultural, social, familial -- were divergent as well. Yet, they shared a common denominator in their birth year: 2001. The other commonality was that each stood before us representing a different religion, their Jewish, Buddhist, Islamic, Sikh, Tongva, Christian, Bahai and Hindu leaders forming a semi-circle around them.
Unlike the children of 9/11 victims profiled over the past week, these youth had no immediate connection to the tragedy. What they knew, didn't know or thought about 9/11 was explored in a mini-documentary filmed in conjunction with the ceremony. Although spoken differently, their reaction seemed to be strikingly mature: religious or cultural intolerance was no reason for violence. But kids these days are verbally savvy, comfortable on stage and screen. Did they really understand the significance of that fateful day in September 2001 when their day would have been spent drooling, crawling, squalling? Did the 10-year anniversary commemorations resonate with them? Was this service any more important than those significant days in their own religions?
From conversations and tone during the service, the adult audience keenly felt the symbolism and minor Los Angeles miracle of bringing together vastly different religions in remembrance of the tragedy. As the Christian parent, I wanted the entire experience to be just as profoundly moving for my daughter and the other youth. But I realized these children have only known our society post-9/11. Moreover, they've really only been aware of the community at large for the past five years, a time period during which religion and society continued to change from those years immediately following 2001. I wondered if this ceremony, while deeply symbolic for adults, felt "normal" for our 10-year-olds. Walking hand-in-hand with a leader of a different religion certainly seemed to be "no big deal, Mom." While they seemed to understand 9/11 was a horrible experience in our history, dare we think these kids hope or even expect a future of tolerance and understanding. The Guibord Center certainly intended this with a meaningful interfaith service, which ended with a pledge to the eight children and the religions they represent: a pledge to "keep the sacred memories alive by making the world a place where all children are part of God's family."
In the end, hope for me as a parent was most tangible when I glanced over at the kids sitting to the side while faith representatives recited lamentations and read from the sacred texts. The kids -- not surprisingly, given they're 10! -- were quietly laughing, talking, playing hand games, enthusiastically nodding ... not simply getting along, but actually enjoying each other.
Later in the evening, after the ceremony, my daughter told me she was writing a song and wanted to ask our pastor if she could sing it in church. "It's just lyrics, Mom, no words. Kinda like a chant." We don't chant in our church. We rarely even sing a cappella. Nevertheless, she understood the power of the Islamic, Jewish and Sikh songs and readings of lamentations heard earlier in the day and wanted to try her hand. This commemoration of 9/11 -- and likely many others -- was not only about tolerance and hope, but understanding. "Can I read you the words, Mom? It's just my first draft."
The stars shine bright over us
Together we can make them shine brighter than ever
They never will shine as ever they did
We will bond to make them shine
This shows anyone can be just as good as you or me
People beyond us will join together.