I write this week from a suburb of Dallas – Boyd, Texas, where I am speaking to the teachers for the opening of schools. I have several hundred teachers, staff, administrators and school board members in the audience. Three common concerns keep coming up: test scores, the economy, and children’s future. These are pretty much the same general concerns in schools all around the world – unless you live in an area that has recently been through a hurricane, or tornado, or earthquake, or drought, or flood, or Heaven forbid – a terrorist activity. This small suburban school still has the structure, values, and activities that were pretty much in place when I was in school. I reminded them how blessed they were to have neighbors down the street that know one another, parents looking out for all the children, and teachers who genuinely care about every student.
I had a speaking engagement in New York City, one year after the tragedy of 9/11. Words cannot express all that my husband and I experienced as we talked with the fire marshal of the World Financial Center at Ground Zero. After personally seeing both planes crash into the Twin Towers right next door to his own building, he was personally responsible for evacuating 6,000 lives. He shared his story of how he prayed throughout the whole ordeal and how that allowed him to stay calm and fulfill his duty with no further lost lives. Along with my interview with him, I spoke with a mother and her 5-year-old child as they placed flowers and a Bible on the picture of the firefighter who had been at little Cici’s pre-school on Sept. 10 that year. His last day on earth was spent in service.
We know that none of us will ever forget. Yet, the theme I kept hearing over and over from Texas to St. Louis to New York, from the school where I spoke, to the everyday people we met on the subway was the same. Even the excellent sermon we heard delivered at the Times Square Church was “Tragedy to Triumph.” I shared with the teachers in Texas today, “where we have been hurt the most is where we can help others the most.” The upcoming 9/11 anniversary reminds us again. There is a great scripture in Genesis that says, “What the enemy meant for harm, God will use for good.” Those families who lost loved ones could never imagine any good coming from such devastation, but eleven years later we are still hearing of such accounts.
Isn’t this the parallel in our lives as well? Wasn’t it in the humbling times when we were literally brought to the end of ourselves that many of us realized our source of strength was found on our knees? One teacher today told of her little 8-year-old daughter who is a cancer survivor. Another told how their whole school came together to help when there was a tragic fire. Out of adversity we all seem to eventually find strength, compassion and love.
Sometimes we go down that old negative guilt trip path of even beating ourselves up worse because we don’t have things as bad as other people do. Then we see them overcome so much more, we begin the self-defeating mind set of listening to that old negative tape we run: “You ought to be ashamed of yourself; look what so-and-so did and you can’t even keep going; you are a failure and always will be.”
We have to stop that old tape that keeps playing in our head! The first step in breaking that vicious cycle is to be aware when that stinking thinking begins. You may not be able to prevent the negative thoughts from coming in the first place, any more than most people will be unable to prevent tragedies in their lives. But this is where we do have a choice: when the negative thoughts pop in (and they will - you can expect them) as soon as you are aware of that negative thinking STOP. I mean right there and then, stop in your tracks and realize you are back in that rut of negative thinking. It may have been a self-defeating thought, it may have been the instant re-play of your past tragedies, just like the news stations who every year keep playing the 9/11 scenes over and over. Anytime we dwell on the past pain or allow anger, resentment or frustration to rule us, we are giving in to the enemy within. It doesn’t matter who, what or where, or how horrible the thought was, this is where we can stop the negative thinking and choose to turn it into positive action.
I will be speaking in the morning to a senior Citizens group from the Lindbergh School District where I retired from teaching high school a decade ago. Believe it or not, in many ways things are better. The test scores are at the top in the state; extra-curricular activities involve almost all students, and students who will be graduating in 2013 were only five years old when the twin towers went down. Personally I hope and pray they will never have to face such news, much less here in our own “backyards.” But realistically and statistically speaking, there will be drugs and alcohol offered to them, they will be tempted to cheat on tests, there will be horrific accidents and sickness. I could go on and on, but that’s not the way the American spirit moves. Our nation will once again mourn the 9/11 tragedy , and well we should; we will do our best as parents, teachers and citizens to help the next generation; we will live in small communities – even within large cities where we have opportunities to make a difference. The Texas teachers who chose to share a difficult part of their lives, just as I shared mine with them, were gaining victory over those very tragedies. That indeed is turning tragedy to triumph. It’s the very best we all can do. So where are our schools of yesteryear? They are still here; remodeled, technologically updated, more sophisticated, and more advanced in all ways. But the hearts and minds of all those hopeful children are still the same; and so are those of parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches and youth workers. Only when that changes will we have no hope. Yesterday, today and forever, may there always be hope. I choose to believe there will be.