I struggled with what to write about yesterday for this column. Do I focus on the nonfiction books I’ve been reading over the last few weeks to help me grieve the death of my father? Do I write about the tragedy of 9/11? Do I review a book that might support teachers in their first few weeks back to school? I decided to spend my day scouring the internet for inspiration.
The nonfiction articles I spent most of my time reading were linked to a conversation I had with a friend of mine last night about the way people were choosing to commemorate 9/11. I stumbled upon a humbling Pay it Forward movement that I never knew about before. Instead of just taking a moment to remember the victims silently, people all over the country are using 9/11 as a catalyst to change their communities in positive, loving ways. They were inspired by the novel Pay it Forward written by Catherine Ryan Hyde (which was recently adapted into a middle grade novel).
The New York Says Thank You Foundation was developed to focus on the changes people made on 9/12 – who you are the moment after a great tragedy is defining. The founders were inspired by the thousands of people who flocked to NY right after the towers came down to support in whatever way they could. Many New Yorkers also heeded the call to help their neighbors. Now the New York Says Thank You Foundation is paying it forward by gathering volunteers and funding service projects all over the country in memory of those who served their communities and those who lost their lives in service during 9/11.
Kevin Tuerff of Enviromedia was forever changed by the good Samaritans in Gander, Newfoundland when his flight was diverted on 9/11. It took him almost a week to get home after his flight was banned from entering the USA. Read about his story here. He chose to brighten people’s lives the way the citizens of Gander, Newfoundland brightened his life amidst a very dark time by creating the Pay It Forward 9/11 movement. Every year on the anniversary of 9/11, he gives his employees $100 and time off from work to go do good deeds for their community. In 2011, he challenged everyone to do 10,000 Acts of Kindness via a Youtube video.
I also found an article from April, in no way connected to 9/11, that describes “16 Stories of New York Niceness” that renewed my faith in humanity. It is nice to know that people are doing kind things for each other every day of the year (even if some of these kind things are a little strange!).
Activate Good, a volunteer organization based in Raleigh, NC, hosted a 9/11 Day of Service Evening Commemoration yesterday. They asked community members to commemorate 9/11 by joining together in one space to work on several different service projects – making dog toys for shelters, painting pictures to brighten the rooms of hospice patients, donating food to local food pantries, and more. They designed this event to be positive with live music, food, and camaraderie.
I guess the way I feel is, if you’re going to take time out of your day to remember a terrible tragedy, why not make that time more valuable by becoming an advocate for change? Not everyone can do this. We all grieve differently. But if you can do a good deed or some kindness in your local community, rally together for positive change, then commemorating those we’ve lost takes on more meaning and inspires a better future. It requires strength to take something so negative and move forward in a positive direction despite all challenges.
Many schools have volunteer clubs and require service learning projects. The idea of Paying it Forward is something that would be a valuable life lesson to teach to our students – especially on a solemn day like 9/11 when many of our students are no longer old enough to remember the event first-hand. They can still learn from it and Pay it Forward by learning to show kindness and compassion rather than indifference and hatred toward others in our local communities and also our global community.