Poem “For Our World”

I wanted to post a poem on 9/11 and found “For Our World” by teen poet Mattie Stepanek. Though my memories flooded back and I wrote “Who Can Forget?”, Stepanek’s poem is as relevant now as the day it was written. The poem addresses strife in our world while, also, speaking to anguish on a personal level. On Yom Kippur, the most solemn day of the Jewish year, we ask G-d and our loved ones to forgive us for our sins as we contemplate our mortality.

And. And, this year is the 5th anniversary of my mom’s and, three weeks later, sister-in-law’s passings. My mom would have been 80 and Sharon would have been 60. When my mom thought, for a brief moment, that she might live, she talked about what she wanted to do with her future. Up until her diagnosis of lung cancer, she’d spent most of her time working, with some time for reading and gardening. Granted, she had an amazing career as an award-winning investigative journalist and editor, but she lamented not finding something else besides occasionally spending time with friends and grandchildren that brought her joy. My mom said she wanted to volunteer at Stella Maris, a long-term care facility where she’d interviewed the nuns.

My mother-in-law, an 86 year old Holocaust survivor, whose health has recently declined, has also been talking about what she’d like to do in her future. When is the right time to add into our lives “the blessing of songs that grow in our hearts?”

The culmination of the Days of Awe is the fast day of Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement). This is the day…according to tradition, God seals the Books of Life and Death for the coming year. The day is devoted to communal repentance for sins committed over the course of the previous year. Because of the nature of Yom Kippur and its associated rituals, it is the most solemn day in the Jewish calendar.

My Jewish Learning

For Our World

We need to stop.
Just stop.
Stop for a moment.
Before anybody
Says or does anything
That may hurt anyone else.

We need to be silent.
Just silent.
Silent for a moment.
Before we forever lose
The blessing of songs
That grow in our hearts.

We need to notice.
Just notice.
Notice for a moment.
Before the future slips away
Into ashes and dust of humility.

Stop, be silent, and notice.

In so many ways, we are the same.
Our differences are unique treasures.
We have, we are, a mosaic of gifts
To nurture, to offer, to accept.

We need to be.
Just be.
Be for a moment.

Kind and gentle, innocent and trusting,
Like children and lambs,
Never judging or vengeful
Like the judging and vengeful.

And now, let us pray,
Differently, yet together,
Before there is no earth, no life,
No chance for peace.

September 11, 2001

© Matthew Joseph Thaddeus Stepanek 1990 -2004
from Hope Through Heartsongs, Hyperion, 2002

Mattie Stepanek was 11 years old when he wrote this poem on the day of 9-11.
Sadly he passed away in 2004 after a long battle with Dysautonomic Mitochondrial Myopathy.
You can learn more about his brief, amazing, inspiring life at his website: http://www.mattieonline.com/

9/11 Who Can Forget?

Image source, Louie Lighting

On the 20th anniversary of 9/11,

Who Can Forget?

Our nation’s loss of innocence,

a class parents’ meeting at elementary school,

the nurse whispering in the principal’s ear,

one mom fleeing upon hearing the news

implementing the emergency call system,

watching annihilation in real time,

screaming and crying at the t.v.,

clinging to my three-month old baby,

rushing my triplet seven year olds home,

my son vowing to become a soldier,

praying for my husband who worked in Manhattan,

fielding concerned calls from across the country,

learning that a friend ran to the city to canvas hospitals

while her children stayed at a neighbor’s

for days,

hugging my husband when he walked in the door,

witnessing smoke curling into the heavens

from an altered skyline,

passing empty cars in parking lots,

working at a childrens boutique,

crying with customers who were dressing their children

for parents’ funerals,

learning whose spouses came home

and whose didn’t,

attending the funeral for my friend’s husband,

and recognizing how unspeakable horror

wreaks everlasting destruction

on hearts, minds and lives.

The Empty Sky After 9/11

Flags fly at Liberty State Park.
Flags fly at Liberty State Park.

One of my favorite places to bike is along the promenade in Liberty State Park in Jersey City. Across the Hudson River, bikers, walkers, fishermen and picnickers get an amazing view of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. I’d been there many times, but hadn’t seen the Empty Sky memorial, dedicated on September 10, 2011, until last weekend.

Each of the memorial’s walls is 210 feet long, the width of each side of the former World Trade Center Towers. Their height reflects the proportion of the former buildings as if they were lying on their sides. The names of the 749 victims from New Jersey are engraved into the twin walls.  “The walls channel visitors to the location in the Manhattan skyline where the former World Trade Center towers once stood.”

Inscribed on the twin walls are these words:

“On the morning of September 11th, 2001, with the skies so clear that the Twin Towers across the river appeared to be within reach, the very essence of what our country stands for – freedom, tolerance and the pursuit of happiness – was attacked. This memorial is dedicated to New Jersey’s 749 innocent loved ones who were violently and senselessly murdered that day at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in Shanksville, PA.

Let this memorial reflect the legacies of those whose lives were lost, that their unfulfilled dreams and hopes may result in a better future for society. Their unique qualities and characteristics enriched our lives immeasurably and through this memorial, their stories live on.”

Empty Air memorial bisected by a steel beam.
Empty Air memorial bisected by a steel beam.

Steel and concrete.
Bent steel and broken concrete.



Father and son.
Father and son.

The Freedom Tower.
The Freedom Tower.

Sun saturated hibiscus.
Sun saturated hibiscus facing Lower Manhattan.

9/11: Horror and Homework

Liberty State Park, NJ
Liberty State Park, NJ

Liberation Monument by Natan Rappaport
Liberation Monument by Natan Rappaport, Liberty State Park, NJ

My daughter came home with an assignment to interview a parent about 9/11.

Anyone not comfortable with the assignment could pass.  Lucky for me that, although the subject gives me a lump in my throat and makes my heart race, I didn’t have to pass.

I give my daughter’s middle school teacher credit for opening up a discussion on a touchy subject and allowing her to turn over in her mind what happened right here

in the city where her father worked,

where her aunt witnessed the horror as it happened,

where her sisters’ friend’s father was killed,

where her yoga teacher’s brother-in-law was killed,

where a neighbor’s husband was killed,

where longtime customers of the store her mother worked at shopped for funeral clothes,

and what the catalyst was that created a desire in her 7 year-old brother to join the Army,

when she was only 3 months old, new to the world, and her mother wondered how she would raise a baby with so much hatred in the world, and her mother worried that life as she knew it might never be the same.

Some of the teacher’s thought-provoking questions are:

1.  Why do you think the terrorists chose the World Trade Center?

2.  If it were up to you, would you have the towers rebuilt?

3.  Have the events that took place on 9/11 changed your life?  How so?

4.  During the months immediately following the attacks, a lot of people sported American flags on their cars, t-shirts and houses.  Why do you think that it takes an act of terrorism to bring a country together?  Why aren’t we united and patriotic like this all of the time?

I’d love to hear your answers to any or all of the questions.

Flag of Honor
Flag of Honor


My son and me at an ROTC dinner.
My son and me at an ROTC dinner.

Proud Dad and sister flank our Army cadet.
Proud Dad and sister flank our Army cadet.