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Looking Back on 9/11

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By Susan

In the summer before 9/11 our Quaker meeting in Memphis (Memphis Friends Meeting) had Iraq on our radar. We were concerned about the human costs that sanctions on Iraq were having on the Iraqi people. We starting planning for a small tent encampment on the porch of our meeting place to draw attention to this issue. We set the dates for the encampment: Sept. 9-11, 2001 and wrote a public statement in support. Three people participated on the first two nights. On the morning of Sept. 11th I was at work packing up books for a move of Memphis’s Main Library to a larger, more central building. The library was closed and we were working with the radio on and heard the horrible news as it happened in real time. It was devastating! I got a call from one of the tent campers; she was crying and saying that she had worked in the World Trade Center for a number of years. She was overwrought and couldn’t continue with encampment that night; could someone take her place. I did and our meeting shifted an evening gathering about sanctions to an evening community gathering on the porch about the carnage we had experienced as the day went on. It was a very intense and needed gathering in the face of tragedy and fear. I knew I had to find a way to respond and I joined a group of pastors I knew and got permission from my boss to go to those daytime meetings as long as I served my hours by coming in early or staying late.

A movement of faith communities in Memphis began in earnest to find a response that rose from compassion, not from fear, revenge or retribution. We formed two committees, one to plan monthly prayer services which would go beyond praying to worshipping together led by each separate tradition in our various houses of worship - Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus and others. Our small Quaker group joined with an equally small Baha’i community to host a service - a large Congregational church provided a space for that particular gathering. We discovered what our faiths had in common and we worked from the place of love and determination to understand and appreciate each other. We became friends in the name of peace and the gatherings went on well beyond one year. Those connections remain alive 20 years later.

The second committee was to plan a Multi Faith Aid effort to send $250,000 of medical supplies to children and refugees in Afghanistan. By March of 2002 we were far short of our goal but a miracle happened that was captured in an article published in the Commercial Appeal March 13, 2002 about another small group of faith community, nonprofit and business people who brought their hearts and minds to the table. Out of the blue (and meant to be) came 30 donated pallets of surgical supplies that could not be used by the healthcare entity which had been the recipient of them because they did not do surgeries. Soon an airplane left for Afghanistan with over $350,000 of medical and other supplies.

This was not the end of the work of our Quaker meeting. Other leadings came…one Friend went to Iraq with Voices in the Wilderness with support of Quakers across TN; several Friends decided to observe Ramadan that year using our own prayer tradition which gave us an even greater understanding of Islam as well as a discipline that took us deeper spiritually; the meeting approved a sign in our window where we updated the number of casualties weekly once the war in Iraq started; one of our children spoke out about peace and was quoted in the Daily Helmsman. This is the daily work of peace…to follow our leadings in community.

Now here we are leaving Afghanistan, a mission with untold costs on not only that nation but our nation. We must find responses than are grounded in the possibilities of peace and the humane and loving actions of people working together. .