In Remembrance of those who Died September 11th

finding hope through a children's mural

Posted by nancy on September 08, 2021

As we approach the twenty-year anniversary of “9/11,”  we are grieving as a nation.  Grieving the loss of life of our American servicemen and for those left behind in Afghanistan. Yet we must pause and remember what happened twenty years ago. 

If you are an American in your  mid-twenties or older, you remember where you were and what you were doing when you heard about the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil in the history of our country. 

Let me share with you an unexpected source of encouragement and hope that I have discovered.  In City Hall in Utica, NY, is a mural made by an anonymous group of school children identified simply as “MLK ELEM. SCHOOL, 4th and 5th Grade, SEPT. 2001.”

I first became obsessed with this mural a little over two years ago, in July of 2019, when I went to City Hall to get a parking permit. 

I went through the line, then the mural caught my eye as I turned to leave.  It was the Bible verse in the lower left corner that first drew me in. In beautiful calligraphy, carefully hand-written in multiple fall colors, now faded by age, was this Bible verse, “If my people, who are called by my name, shall humble themselves and PRAY, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will Heal their Land.” -2 Chronicles 7:14

I stepped back and looked more carefully.  “This is a great story,” I thought.  At the time I hadn’t started my blog yet, but I was gathering ideas. I took pictures of the mural and decided that I would write about it after I got my blog off the ground. 

Within a few weeks my mother was diagnosed with brain cancer, so I put my writing on hold for a year. A year and a half later, during the height of the pandemic, I was ready to write this story.  I pulled out my phone and then realized that the photos I had taken of the mural were lost, along with the rest of my photos and contacts, when my old phone had broken.

Again, I visited City Hall, but to my horror and disappointment, I couldn’t find the mural. The security officer said that they had been renovating, and he didn’t know what had happened to it.  He suggested that I call the mayor’s office.

I called the mayor’s office and spoke with the Executive Assistant, a friendly woman named Tracey. It took her a few weeks, but she tracked the mural down and invited me into her office to take pictures of it. (We certainly need more Tracey’s in this world!)

After meeting Tracey in her office and taking pictures, I made phone calls to the Utica schools trying to find information about the teachers and students involved in making the mural, but I got nowhere.  I also posted a message on FaceBook asking for help in tracking them down.  The post was shared several times, but no one responded.  I decided the anonymity added to the intrigue.

You may wonder why I was so passionate about tracking down a faded twenty-year old mural hanging in a small upstate New York city. First of all, it is a well-executed piece of art. Also, because these children, and the teachers behind this project, got it right.

 

I suspect I am not the only one who thinks so, or the mural would not still be on display today. 

I would describe the mural as a collage with a yellow construction paper background made up of newspaper clippings, quotes, and images which beautifully depict where we were as a nation back in Sept. 2001, and may I suggest, where we are as a nation today. 

Some insightful teachers took advantage of a teachable moment and helped their students work together to process the pain, confusion, and chaos following the terrorist attacks in a personal and creative way, sharing a positive message of hope which has lasted twenty years.

The title, handwritten in beautiful script, “In Remembrance of/Those who died/In the horrible events of SEPTEMBER 11th, the fall of 2001/A Day That Will Live on in Infamy,” speaks boldly.  The events on September 11th, 2001, were indeed horrible, but as awful as they were, they must live on in infamy – they must always be remembered!

The bulk of the mural is filled with newspaper headlines and articles clipped from the paper and placed randomly throughout.  Headlines such as,  “Suspicion, anger among feelings attack generated,” “halt violence,” “WE WILL NEVER FORGET,” “. . . land that I love,”  “Military prepares for what may come.”  And full articles such as, “We must turn to healing, not war,” “It will not be quick or easy,” and “Bible sales on the rise in wake of  attacks.” There are also several letters to the editor. 

These students captured the pulse of their city, representative of our nation, at the time just following the terrorist attacks. Their piece of art has the feel of a time capsule, but through visual images rather than objects.

Perhaps the most poignant parts of the collage are the black silhouette images.  In the middle of the mural, just below the title, is a depiction of two emergency workers with a pickaxe and shovel, holding an American flag. In the left lower corner is  the silhouette of a police officer  with a traditional police hat and badge.  He is looking up and seems to be saluting the flag. In the lower right corner, layered over and under newspaper articles, is a silhouette of a firefighter with a dog. The  letters “FDNY” are displayed on his coat, and he, too, is saluting the flag. What a beautiful tribute this is to the many firefighters, paramedics,  and police officers who lost their lives that day!

The Bible verse in the lower left corner offers hope.  Amid these atrocious events, we are reminded that God is in charge, and we, as a nation, are called into action--to humble ourselves, to pray, to turn back to God, and to seek His face.

Scattered throughout the Utica area, or perhaps the country or even the world, is now a group of young adults, and a few aging, or maybe retired teachers,  who poured their passion and talents into creating a memorial which has stood the test of time.  To these individuals, I would like to say that their message lives on bringing hope and inspiration to a new generation.

*Photo credit for background photo:  Paul Lee