On Sunday, Sept 16, 2001, five days after the Twin Towers fell, I sat in my church basement surrounded by a circle of children ages five through around nine. That day, I was responsible for the children’s liturgy of the Catholic Mass, a role I filled five or six times a year. The kids came down with me at the beginning of Mass, we said the prayers that were part of the liturgy, read the scripture readings and the Gospel, and did an activity to help them understand the crux of The Word.
I was still numb from the events of the week. We live about three hours north of New York City, and I didn’t lose anyone personally in the tragedies, but many people in our community had close ties to NYC. Many people lost loved ones. And every American, regardless of where they lived, was hurting.
What kind of world will our children grow up in?
Looking around at the children’s innocent faces, I thought, “What kind of world are they growing up in?”
My own sons Stephen and Matthew, ten and fifteen, respectively, sat upstairs with my husband, Mike. What kind of world were they growing up in?”
Their world now included a stay-at-home mother, a recent choice for our family that we hoped would help smooth Matthew’s bumpy recovery from his brain tumor. We weren’t well off, but I realized our privilege of living on one salary, and not a day went by that I didn’t give thanks for it.
Although I had planned my lesson for that morning, I didn’t feel prepared. How does one reconcile faith in a loving God with the horrors of 9-11? The question was too big to answer, so I started small, with a pinprick.
During the Prayers of the Faithful, Catholic Mass-goers may offer their own silent prayers. At the children’s liturgy, we said them aloud.
I always went first so the kids got the idea. Typically, I said something like, “I pray for my friend, who lost her job, that she’ll find a new job she loves.” Or, “I pray for people who don’t have enough to eat, that tonight they go to bed with a full belly.”
That day, I had a special 9-11 prayer. I prayed for Osama Bin Laden.
In the previous days, I had thought about this intention, wondering if the kids would even notice or recognize the strange name. If they did, would there be backlash from parents? How can you pray for that monster? I imagined a voice on the phone might demand.
But I wasn’t praying for Bin Laden’s well-being or for the salvation of his soul. I didn’t wish him well. In fact, I wanted him dead.
What I prayed for was a tiny miracle.
A 9-11 prayer for a miracle.
“I pray for Osama Bin Laden. Do you know who that is?” I asked, looking around the circle. Most of the kids nodded, whether they knew or not, I suspected.
“He’s a very bad person,” I continued. “So, I pray for a tiny pinprick to open in his heart so that God’s love can enter and grow, getting rid of all the bad thoughts.”
It’s a prayer I’ve said many times about many “very bad” people.
Every child is born full of goodness, I believe. Circumstances of life allow the goodness to grow or to be squashed by anger, fear, sadness, hopelessness, and sometimes, evil. A person’s circumstances don’t justify their committing crimes or mistreating others, and I believe everyone should be held accountable for their actions.
I can’t change a person’s circumstances in retrospect, but I can pray for a miracle. So I did. And no one complained.
I’ve since wandered away from the Catholic Church, and my current beliefs don’t fit the mold of any organized religion. But my faith is strong—in a God who goes by many earthly names and is envisioned by humans in many forms and genders. And I have faith in the goodness of people, in the power of simple acts of kindness, and in our purpose on this earth to love.
The losses of 9-11 are enormous: Loved ones, neighbors, colleagues. Physical and mental health. Housing and belongings. Employment and a way of life. Security. Normalcy. Hope.
Whatever you lost that day, I hold your pain in my heart. And I say a different 9-11 prayer for you, hoping for a different miracle–a miracle that floods you with light, with strength, with hope, with love.
I will never forget.
If you know someone who could use a prayer today, please share or forward.