Her son was killed in the World Trade Center Attacks, and yet, out of that tragedy, she has become a symbol of heroism. Anne Mulderry lost a precious gift on September 11, 2001 -- the opportunity to hug her son, just one more time. But beyond her profound grief, she has risen above, and her gift to the world is her continued commitment to --
PEACE ON EARTH AND GOODWILL TOWARD MAN.
She Rose Above Her Sorrow And Took A Stand For Peace: A Speech
Delivered by Anne Mulderry
Thank you Susan Haye and all Mothers (and Others) for reaching out to September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows and allowing me the privilege of being with you today.
Two or three years ago my friend Betsy told me this story: As her grandson Ian was heading off to nursery school his mother, Maureen, said to him, “School will be so good, Ian. You’ll have lots of friends there.”
A few days into the school year, the teacher drew the young mother aside. “Your son,” said the teacher, “has the most wonderful way of addressing his classmates. ‘Friend,’ he says, ‘will you pass me the green crayon?’ ”
As experienced adults we take pleasure in Ian’s innocent openness, and we take pleasure in our glimpse into his loving and secure family and classroom, his loving and secure world. At the same time, a part of us mourns in anticipation of what we know will come: one day, Ian will discover – may have already by now -- that not everyone always behaves in a friendly fashion. He has or will witness and experience conflicts that lead to shockingly unfriendly actions.
My son Stephen, a generation older than Ian, didn’t habitually address others as “Friend”, but he would have taken the same pleasure we take in Ian’s innocent openness, and Stephen would certainly have identified the strong and lasting parallels between his and Ian’s view of the world. Stephen had surely experienced challenges to this world view even before the ultimate moment when he knew his life was to be sacrificed. In that moment, Stephen and those with him in the upper conference room on the 87th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center, in a final sharing of true friendship, passed a cell phone among themselves, so that each might -- however briefly -- speak to or leave messages for those of us who they were leaving behind. As far as I have ever learned, not one message that cam e from that group of 20 dwelled on the evil befalling them. One after another, the words given and left -- to be treasured forever by those hearing them -- were words of love.
My home is a small house, a cottage really, in a small village about a two-hour drive north of New York City. Boston to the East is also just a two-hour drive. And that’s a good thing, because my five children living in New York City and the two living in Boston could drive rather easily to me, and me to them. The son in San Francisco has to fly to be with us, and does, on many occasions.
Just two months before that September 11th of 2001, I had moved to this village from the nearby city of Albany, which was where our three daughters and five sons were raised. We had been blessed to have a comfortable home there in a neighborhood rich in neighbors and friends, and my children had had a grace-filled place to grow-up before college and career opportunities took them away. At that time, the family home was sold, and the smaller house in the village of Kinderhook, just 30-minutes south of Albany on the east side of the Hudson River, had already become the family’s new gathering place.
The end-of-summer holiday, Labor Day of 2001, had seen a great gathering in our new-old house, which was in need of lots of work and lots of workers, down to the youngest grandchild. Our brilliantly happy memories of that time together are now forever intertwined with the brilliant beauty of the world on the day that would bring such devastation and sorrow to so many.
At about 8:30 on that day I left my house to walk to the center of the village and attend my first Yoga lesson in a spacious, high-ceilinged room above the village hall. At the close of class, the teacher invited us to meditate silently on a word of our own choosing. Light pouring through the tall arched windows, reflecting on creamy walls, on the pressed-tin ceiling and honey-hued wooden floors, made my choice easy, and I was filled with gratitude for the Light that fills our world, our minds, our hearts.
On the way home I stopped for my mail at the post office, always a quiet place at that time of day. In my box, along with regular letters and bills, was a notice of a package. The postmistress and I were alone as I smilingly told her I hoped there was a good surprise in the package she had for me.
“Yes,” she said, “I hope so, too, especially on a day like this.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, sensing something seriously wrong.
“Oh, you don’t know...a plane has gone into the World Trade Center.”
I barely managed to say, “I have a son who works there,” and the look that came over her face told me she was already filled with sorrow for me.
It was nearing 10 am now, and my deliberate walk home, one foot in front of the other, was a time of girding for all that was to follow. I put myself in the hands of God; I put us all in hands of God, and prayed for strength to face whatever was ahead.
There were eight messages on my telephone answering machine.
The first was from my son Stephen, the sixth of the eight children, the fourth of the five sons, saying good-bye, his voice telling me that whatever was to happen, he would be all right, and so would I; his voice, saying “I love you” -- a plural ‘you’ if ever there was one, because not for a moment did I not know this was a message for all he was leaving.
Stephen worked in the South Tower of the World Trade Center, the second to be hit, the first to fall. Directly across the street, his sister Amy, our last child and third daughter, worked in the World Financial Center.
The second message on my machine was from Amy’s friend, Dan, whose shaken voice betrayed his deepest fears. “Anne, have you heard from Amy? I don’t know where she is” his voice told me.The third call was from my husband, his shattered voice asking me, pleading with me to call him.
All the other calls were from family and friends begging for word that the children were all safe.
I reached my husband immediately and he said he was coming to be with me. He asked me to not turn on the television.
I had no inclination to do so. I stepped out my kitchen door into the back yard, and sitting with the phone on my lap, descended into deep prayer, asking to be connected to all that was happening and to all who were in jeopardy, and preparing myself for the horror of having to accept that two of my children were dead ...and I was alive.
The phone rang.
It was my daughter, Amy.
Joy rose within me from depths never guessed at. Again and again, waves of joy filled me, rolled through me, before I had the strength and breath to speak the only words possible “Where is Stephen?”
The sister who had seen, had heard, had known her brother’s destruction as she was carried away from it in a river of people escaping the ruined buildings, could not answer.
Into that void of silence came rushing waves of grief and despair that shook the foundation of my being. With every wave, a howling came from me unlike any sound I had ever experienced or known, an ancient cry to the heavens unmistakable in its meaning. That dear daughter and sister heard a sound no human ear would ever seek to hear or ever forget hearing.
And even in that moment I knew my life would be spent honoring the grief and honoring the joy that had come to me. My loss must forever link me to all the loss of all the ages, the ages past and the ages to come. Just so, my joy must link me forever to all the joy of all the ages past and to come.
Stephen died, at the age of 33, because others in his world had determined he and anyone of his nation was not a friend. Because of a label Stephen bore, Stephen had been determined to be an enemy who deserved to have his life ended.
We ask ourselves, “How, in the Name of God, can such things happen?”
How to resist falling in love with death was the question. Depression and despair is one way of falling in love with death. Violence and aggression is another way of falling in love with death. I prayed each day would bring me what I needed to resist those tempting easy answers. And so it happened. My belief that love is the only eternal element of our human existence grew ever deeper.
In the immediate aftermath of September 11th my attention was focused on my family as we charted our own collective and individual journeys through grief. As the veils of mourning began to lift, I began speaking privately and publicly of my own certainty that a violent response was not the answer. I had long ago come to the certainty that in relationships between and among individuals and nations, violent retaliation only sowed dragon’s teeth from which sprang more horror, more destruction.
In the mid-sixties, when I had come to oppose the United States’ involvement in Vietnam, I had become active in local efforts to increase public awareness of the consequences of this war, of the damage being done the Vietnamese people, of the damage being done to our young people forced to bear arms in a war that recognized no civilians. As a member of Pax Christi, the Catholic international peace organization founded by Germans and Belgians after World War I, I attended vigils, I pamphleted at defense factories, I rode on long bus rides to lobby elected officials in Washington. And so, now, I reentered that way of witnessing, standing in public places in candlelit vigils for peace with local groups, traveling to participate in nearby fasting and prayer observances.
It wasn’t until March of 2002 that I learned of the group known as September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. My introduction was a news release sent me by email. The headline was
SEPTEMBER 11th FAMILIES FOR PEACEFUL TOMORROWS’ STATEMENT ON THE IRAQ WAR
The sub-heading was a quote by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
The past is prophetic in that it asserts that wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows. One day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means. How much longer must we play at deadly war games before we heed the plaintive pleas of the unnumbered dead and maimed of past wars?
I would like to read the news release to you so you can hear the words that were a clarion call for me, words that spoke so directly to my own inner convictions, and I expect to yours as well:
September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows condemns unconditionally the illegal, immoral, and unjustified US-led military action in Iraq. As family members of September 11th victims, we know how it feels to experience "shock and awe," and we do not want other innocent families to suffer the trauma and grief that we have endured. While we also condemn the brutality of Saddam Hussein's regime, it does not justify the brutality, death and destruction being visited upon Iraq and its citizens by our own government.
What others may view as a policy decision, we see clearly as the murder of innocent people. Death among the civilian population in Iraq will be immediate: the result of bombing that kills indiscriminately. Especially at risk are the children who make up 50% of Iraq's population. Death will also come later, from malnutrition and disease caused by the interruption of vital relief services and the destruction of infrastructure for supplying food and medicine. More deaths will occur years from now, as a result of the horrendous environmental impacts of waging war using lethal contaminants such as depleted uranium, a substance banned by the European Union.
We are also concerned about this war’s consequences for America's military personnel, brave women and men who enlisted to defend our country, only to find themselves sent to fight an unjust war of aggression. Our prayers are with them and their families, and our hopes are that they will return soon.
Meanwhile, American citizens will bear the staggering costs of military action and the resulting reduction in spending on domestic infrastructure and social programs. We assert that Congress's lack of accountability for this war is a serious threat to our Democracy. We call on the House and the Senate to fulfill their Constitutional roles, both as representatives of the public will and as a check against the abuse of power by the Executive branch. And we call on them to defend America from all of the threats—economic, political, and military—that gather against it.
This war will not make America safer. On the contrary, it has already resulted in heightened anti-American sentiment around the world, and is likely to promote further terrorist attacks, not just today, but years from today. It will not protect American families from another September 11th.
Therefore, members of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows will continue to oppose this war and to draw attention to its civilian victims. We will demand compensation for them, as we did for innocent civilians killed and injured by our bombs in Afghanistan. These casualties must be included as we tally the costs of choosing to wage war.
Finally, we will keep the faith with millions of people across the United States and around the world who have formed a truly international community favoring peace and declaring this war immoral. We are confident that, in spite of the events of today, the wisdom of their views will prevail as the 21st century unfolds, and as we continue to build a global community that honors humanity, keeps families whole, and renders war obsolete.
These are the words that brought me into contact with the admirable people who had reached out in their grief to find each other and to articulate an alternative to violent retaliation. They are a group mighty in their diversity, mighty in their passion, and mighty in their refusal to lapse into easy answers to hard questions. I am privileged to be numbered among them, and to have met, through them, the extraordinary individuals who were ripped from their lives and from our world. Through Rita, I met her brother Abe, who died with the wheelchair-bound co-worker he would not abandon. Through Colleen, I got to know her brother Billy, who died because his work brought him to a one-day meeting in the North Tower. In Adele’s home, I felt the presence of her son Timothy, and felt this valiant man’s commitment to his duty as a fireman to save others, a commitment that plunged him into the inferno. I know, through the writings of David, his brother Jim. I mourn with Barry, Kelly, and Ryan for their brother Craig, who died at his desk in the Pentagon. I see in the eyes of Andrea, the deep reflection of her graceful geographer husband, a man who spent his lifetime embracing always deeper understandings of other cultures, a man with a mind and heart large enough and strong enough for whole worlds of family and friends. These are the people whose gifts were taken from us that day, my Stephen with them. Stephen, our family peacemaker, who died in community, gathered in a conference room with co-workers, sharing one working telephone to leave messages of love and caring --- no messages of hate, no calls for revenge. When Stephen reached his brother Peter, and Peter implored him not to hang up, Stephen’s gentle answer was, “I have to pass the phone on. I love you, brother. I love you, brother.”
Here are some words of David Potorti, a founder of Peaceful Tomorrows and the author of the book describing the organization’s beginnings and goals, when he addressed peace rallies in Japan and Korea. He closed with these words:
"It is good to know who your enemies are. But it is more important to know who your friends are. While we know that the terrorist threat is real, I believe that we can pursue better, smarter remedies, using the power of alliances and the rule of international law.
I believe that terrorism is not really the problem: terrorism is a symptom of the problem. The problem is militarism, imperialism, nationalism, materialism, the belief that the lives of some matter more than the lives of others. These are the problems and the misperceptions we must remedy, but we must first be willing to recognize them. And we must be careful to preserve our freedom in whatever we do. So much of what we are told today is that we have no choices--we must respond with force. But to me, freedom is about having choices... we must consider all of our options before choosing the last resort of war.
As a Christian, I follow a leader who told his followers that the most important law for them would always be to love God, and to love their neighbors as themselves. This leader further explicitly instructed his followers to love their enemies.
Yet my country, led by an administration that claims to be true followers of the same leader, an administration that impugns the faithfulness and patriotism of such as myself and my dead son, has dedicated our nation’s resources to killing those arbitrarily labeled enemies. Furthermore, the people now controlling our government have declared and worked to implement an agenda that will result in securing and hoarding the riches of the land for the minority class -- the elite -- to which they, our leaders, belong. This is being attempted, and yes, even accomplished by them, not only in our own land, but in any land they declare to be an enemy.
And this is happening, in our day -- in Ian’s day -- in the very land to which so many of our forbearers came filled with the hope and trust that they and all those who came to work and contribute to this noble experiment of a democratic republic, would be joined in creating and ever-recreating a world in which privilege meant only the privilege to be part of a people and government that would be one and the same, in a country where the people and the government would strive to fulfill the vision of a nation dedicated to balanced cooperation to solve problems and not fall into deadly attempts to kill problems. We as a people and as a nation have been guilty in the past of dreadful failures to live up to this ideal. In the evil consequences of such failures we have found the humility as a nation and as a people to pick ourselves up and start over again, to continue to seek new ways to realize the dream the founders began and we build on, to never stop believing we can keep striving for the ideals we proclaim to the world. That’s what shines so strongly through to us in Ian’s story. We can see in Ian and his companions the echo of the framers, controlling all contrary impulses, struggling to continually ask each other, “Friend, will you pass me your version of the fifth...first...seventh...amendment to the Constitution we are writing here?”
On this last Sept 9th, Judith and Bill Moyers were given the Union Medal from the Union Theological Seminary in New York, for their contributions to faith and reason in America.
Bill Moyers’s remarks on that occasion are available on the TomPaine.commonsense website, and they have helped me see clearly and face where we are as a nation today:
“[Terrorists] win only if we let them, only if we become like them: vengeful, imperious, intolerant, paranoid. Having lost faith in all else, zealots have nothing left but a holy cause to please a warrior God. They win if we become holy warriors, too; if we kill the innocent as they do; strike first at those who had not struck us; allow our leaders to use the fear of terrorism to make us afraid of the truth; cease to think and reason together, allowing others to tell us what’s in God’s mind. Yes, we are vulnerable to terrorists, but only a shaken faith in ourselves can do us in.”
Moyers cites some of the many endorsements of violence in the Koran and the Bible, and he startles us with the statement that “the ‘violence-of-God’ tradition remains embedded deep in the DNA of monotheistic faith...we know that fundamentalists the world over and at home consider their sacred texts to be literally God’s word on all matters”
Millions believe that God slaughters, Moyers reminds us, and he takes us back to 9/11 four years ago:
The slaughter in the World Trade Center was the result of Osama ben Laden reading his sacred text closely and literally and calling on Muslims to resist what [ben Laden] described as a ‘fierce Judeo-Christian campaign’ against Islam, prayed to Allah for guidance ‘to exalt the people who obey Him and humiliate those who disobey Him.’
The ruins were still smoldering, when the reverends Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell went on television to proclaim that the terrorists were God’s punishment of a corrupt America. They said the government had adopted the agenda of (and here Moyers quotes the evangelists) ‘of the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and lesbians’ and they stated that ‘God almighty is lifting his protection from us.’ Suddenly we were immersed in the pathology of a ‘holy war’ as defined by fundamentalists on both sides.
Moyers goes on to warn against the dangers that ensue when a major political party in a democracy becomes theocratic, and uses its idea of God as a battering ram on not just war but every issue: crime and punishment, foreign policy, health care, taxation, energy, regulation, social services. The “great moral issues of the radical right, now the dominant force in America’s governing party, do not include building a moral economy,” says Moyers, and he charges them with culpability “in upholding a system of class and race in which, as we saw [in the response to the hurricane Katrina], the rich escape and the poor are left behind.”
I hope many of you watched the “Higher Ground” benefit for New Orleans broadcast over PBS last Saturday night. It was one city’s love letter to another, a tribute to the nation’s spirit (brought to us, by the way, by a threatened, but brave, PBS). How it moved me with pride in our people, the compassion that was evidenced again and again over the course of the evening.
Nekesa Mumbi Moody, writing for the Associated Press, said:
The five-hour Jazz at Lincoln Center's ''Higher Ground: Hurricane Relief Benefit Concert" Saturday night was stirring not only for its music, but for the emotionally charged performances and speeches that mourned the tragedy that struck New Orleans, but also assigned blame.
"When the hurricane struck, it did not turn the region into a Third World country . . . it revealed one," actor Danny Glover told the audience.
"Katrina was not unforeseeable," Harry Belafonte said. "It was the result of a political structure that subcontracts its responsibility to private contractors and abdicates responsibility [for health care, housing and even evacuation] altogether."
Bill Cosby called on the American people to hold government accountable. "This happened to the people. The constitution says of the people, by the people, for the people... but the people who got the office got into office and forgot about the people," he said.
I heard others say other words that will stay with me:
“The shoulder of technology has been put to the wheel of death instead of the wheel of life ...
“The weapons that threaten us most watch us sleep and aim at our dreams ...
“May the homeless of New Orleans not become homeless shadows in other cities ... “
and, perhaps the words that struck me most deeply:
“Poverty is the weapon of mass destruction.”
So what do we do, we who live in these times and are charged with responsibilities to the Stephens and Amys and Ians, and Amals and Jameels of today and tomorrow?Last September 11th our family gathered on an island in Lake George in the beautiful Adirondacks, and on the fourth return of the day our Stephen died, we scattered the cremated remains so carefully collected and identified by the New York City Medical Examiner’s office. As Stephen’s ashes floated away, mingled with the hydrangeas from the front garden in Kinderhook, silent tears flowed as slowly as the waters, and three generations once more remembered our beloved son ... brother ... uncle, and once again admitted the grief we will never become used to. Then grace allowed happy memories to rise from our hearts to our lips, in tender tribute to Stephen’s love for us, and our love for him.
I’ve placed my faith, trust and hope in a caring creator who eternally redeems and loves all of creation. But the days following my return from Lake George were hard days, when I went deep into a dark place, where the temptation to despair is strong. Coming out of that place demands determination, as we all know. So I must tell you that preparing to be here with you today was a lifeline. Knowing I would be with people who won’t let go of belief that the earth is meant to be and can be made a good place and not a hell for people – ALL people. You are determined, as I am, to hold tight to the truth Ian brought with him to nursery school, and to pers evere in persuading others that peace-making – not war-making – is pleasing to the God of creation, redemption and eternal love.
Writing about the Higher Ground concert, Jon Pareles in the Times stated that “The concert's most touching moment was a performance by the New Orleans trumpeter Irvin Mayfield. His father, he said, is still among the missing. He played "Just a Closer Walk with Thee" ... From a hushed, sustained, almost tearful beginning, it turned more assertive and ornate, with growls and extended slides, determined to rise above sorrow.”
Thank you for helping me rise above sorrow, and for the honor you have given The Sept 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows by inviting one of us to be here with you to work and hope with you for a future where all can be joined not only in shared grief, but in joys that only come when we have attained the wisdom to ask of others:
“Friend, will you pass the peace? ... Will you pass the justice? ... Will you pass the fruits of creation for us all to share?”
The Stephen Mulderry Memorial Fund
c/o Andrew Mulderry
200 Clarendon Street, 51st Floor
Boston, MA 02116