Written by John Titus
Yesterday, Bev and I sat through a four-hour interview with a local TV news journalist. He was doing a story on local people who had been directly impacted by the tragedy of 9/11. He found my book online and wanted to talk with us about our grief journey and the peace work we have done in Alicia’s name through The Alicia Titus Memorial Peace Fund and with the September Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. He asked many questions as we relived that horrible day, and we talked about who Alicia was and why we chose to dedicate our lives to issues of peace and justice; he shared with us that he had three young daughters. During the interview, as we were reminiscing about that day, both of us had tears in our eyes, and I looked at our interviewer and he did as well. His compassion was evident as he gently led us through our journey of Alicia’s life and our grief.
At the end, he asked if there was anything we wanted to add. Although we had covered most everything, after contemplating a minute, I relayed the following. “Our country is deeply divided in so many ways. Alicia would always ask, ‘Why can’t we all just learn to get along?’ She had a love for the beautiful tapestry created by our diverse differences. One of the reasons she chose to become a flight attendant was so she could travel, meet new people, learn about different cultures, and experience the beauty of those countries and cultures. She had a love and compassion for all people, and she complemented that with a profound wisdom that earned her the designation as an old soul by those who knew her. Alicia’s truth was our truth, and her legacy was one of love, compassion, peace, and justice for all.”
During our early grieving, the pain was intense, but revenge was never our response. Many were calling for vengeance and war, but we just wanted justice and peace for our country and our world. The burning need for revenge would not help us heal. It would only harden our hearts, cause turmoil in our souls, and it was not what Alicia would have wanted. Our path forward had to be dedicated to overcoming our fears and differences, finding ways to create a more just and equable world, and growing our understanding and compassion for those who are different from us. Forgiveness has helped me to let go of the need for revenge, the hatred, bitterness, and fear, as I was able to “give forth” those feelings to God, and it helped me heal and grow my soul.
During my early grieving I would awaken from a fitful night’s sleep, go into the sunroom on the east side of the house, or out along the river to pray, meditate, often cry, and write in my journal. Once in a while, insights would come to me that were not from me. One morning as I was meditating, in a moment of clarity, I felt the deep interconnectedness that binds us all and all of life together. Our dear departed mentor and friend, George Dole, helped me to more deeply understand its meaning. The heartfelt realization and significance of this insight helped me see and know that we are all from one source, we are all children of God! And what we do for, or against, one another, we do also unto ourselves. If we grow our love for one another, our understanding also grows. If we seek out others with love and peace in our hearts, it will be returned. And the converse is true as well. I know that evil exists, and many have chosen its path, but I also know that God’s salvation is for everyone.
Twenty years ago, during our most intense grief, we began a journey of peacebuilding, initially by ourselves, our church, family and friends, then with other 9/11 families. Along with Rev. Betsy Coffman, and other church members, we established the Alicia Titus Memorial Peace Fund at Urbana University. We have travelled across the United States, Canada, and some in Europe, to share our message of peace. And we have focused more specifically with the University, local schools, other organizations, and our Urbana Community. We have introduced the Great Kindness Challenge to over 5,000 kids in our county, offered classes and workshops on non-violent communication for the community and first responders, helped designate Urbana as the 140th International City of Peace, provided speakers from as far away as Iraq, held panel discussions, hosted Quilting the Golden Rule with all the major world religions, provided books for local school and community libraries on kindness, peace-building through friendships, meditation, communication skills, learning about different cultures, and creating a culture of peace.
We also have written articles for magazines and newspapers, sponsored events and activities, joined with other peacemakers on relevant issues, and have spoken at universities, churches, public forums and other events. One event that provided us all with much healing was when we were invited to speak at the American Muslim Voice Conference in California and met with many of the 400 participants and shared stories over a meal afterwards. We also hold an annual Alicia Titus Memorial Peace Run around 9/11 to honor those who died on that day, the first responders and all victims of violence and war. This year’s Run will be at Freedom Grove, beginning at 9:03 AM after a moment of silence. For more information, visit: https://runsignup.com/
On the fourth anniversary of 9/11, we were invited to do the Sunday morning service with Marianne Williamson in Washington, D.C. for the Department of Peace Conference. The next day, I joined a panel to speak about the Department of Peace to Congress. From that event, Marianne has continued to bless us with her presence at our 5th, 15th, and now the 20th Alicia Titus Memorial Peace events. Marianne Williamson is a New York Times Best Selling Author, international speaker, spiritual leader, 2020 candidate for the presidency, and a dear friend. She will join us on September 12 this year for Commemorating Twenty Years of Peacebuilding After 9/11 as our keynote speaker. Bev and I, along with the World House Choir, will join her. I have had the joyous privilege of singing with the Choir for seven years. The Choir’s mission is, “To perform music that motivates and inspires our communities toward justice, diversity, inclusion, and equality as we strive for peace and build our web of mutuality.” More information and sign-up for the event is at: www.eventbrite.com
After Alicia was killed, we were totally distraught. The pain and grief were both overwhelming and all consuming. Even though I know Alicia’s soul lives on in the heavenly realm and she is at peace and filled with heavenly joy, we still had to grieve our loss in the earthly realm. I realized that there was no escape from the devastating grief and that I must honor that pain, process it, and hopefully come out the other side. I described it at one point as standing on an overlook looking into a deep, dark abyss, then spiraling downward into the darkness, wondering if I would find my way back out again. At the lowest and darkest point, I saw a light shining that kept getting brighter! And I knew that it was the light of God leading me onward. Prayer and much love helped me to find my way through the darkness of grief, and I found a greater love and renewed meaning and purpose on the other side. Bev and I want to thank each and every one of you, our church family, for helping us get through the overpowering grief and desolation after our tragic loss and the twenty years since. We will continue to work together to bring light and love to our world. May God’s blessings be upon us as we strive to build a just and loving world, and may peace be upon you.
The following prayer, found among Alicia’s belongings, was earmarked as one of her favorites.
PRAYER OF ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, let me bring hope,
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.