“Don’t run away from grief , o soul
Look for the remedy inside the pain.
Because the rose came from the thorn
and the ruby came from a stone.” ~ Rumi, a Sufi philosopher and poet.
When 9/11 happened, I was pregnant with my first child. I was working as a full-time reporter and found myself drowning in all the overwhelming details. It was a long day spent in a tense newsroom with the television blaring, the newswire flooding and phones ringing. At the end of the day, I remember returning home drained and full of despair. I sat on the back porch with my husband and my dog and just cried. What kind of world was I bringing my child into?
My son ended up being born eleven weeks early, only hours after my seventh month checkup. While the medical cause was hypertension, I blame 9/11 and its aftermath, and all the stress involved. As a Muslim American, I was experiencing a series of internal earthquakes.
Until then, I’d been focused on building my career and nurturing my personal life (dating, relationship, courtship, marriage). But now I was intensely aware of the world around me. The pain, the anger, the sorrow, the coming together, the rebuilding, the humanity. I wanted to be part of the solution, part of the positive balance of the universe. So I asked myself, what can I do?
“What kind of world was I bringing my child into?”
Besides writing, the only thing I enjoyed doing, was somewhat good at, was cooking. I volunteered at the Daily Bread Soup Kitchen. In the midst of opening cans, chopping vegetables, cooking and serving I found peace.
Sometime later, Bishop Michael Pfeifer, of the Catholic Diocese of San Angelo, called together a diverse group of people to create interfaith dialogue in the community. I was stunned by the invitation and intimidated at our first gatherings as I found myself in a room with a doctor, a reverend, and a bishop. I noticed another young woman of about my age and made a beeline for her. She turned out to be one of the Jewish guests, and today she is a good friend.
That initial meeting led to us forming the Peace Ambassadors of West Texas, a non-profit dedicated to promoting interfaith cooperation, dialogue and understanding, while working for peace. We started by holding panels of discussions at various sites in our community. However, our members with different talents and interests helped us grow in several directions: Faith Club, a book club that reads and discusses thought-provoking books about different religions and philosophies; an annual interfaith Peace Camp in the summer that teaches kids about respect, diversity and peaceful strategies; and, my personal favorite, an annual Valentine’s Lunch at the Soup Kitchen.
A diverse group of volunteers — young and old, from different racial and ethnic groups, different religious affiliations, different parts of the world– come together to host a lunch. The soup kitchen is transformed into a magical, happy place and everyone gets to munch on chocolate-dipped strawberries and listen to classic romantic songs, even dance. Love and food are basic human needs, what better way to celebrate Valentine's Day?
So, embrace opportunities to make a difference, be a positive force. As Gandhi said: “Be the change you want to see in this world.”