We live in a time and within a culture where almost every day is given a special meaning. Examples like Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, ANZAC Day, Daffodil Day, International Day of Happiness, Mother’s, Father’s, Siblings, Grandparents’ days abound. The month of September was a relatively quiet one until that day of infamy in 2001 when planes crashed into major landmarks of US power, killing many innocent people who were in no way involved with the conflict in the Middle East.
I was working near the Pentagon that day and fortunately had managed to get out of the city in time before days of panic descended upon the area. I had no way of knowing at the time that the plane which had crashed just a few kilometres away was carrying among others, an Australian woman who’d devoted her life to serving others mainly through the Australian Red Cross. Yvonne Kennedy was her name. Yvonne’s personal belongings recovered from the crash site are now a part of the National Museum Australia and I intend to visit and stand with her when my daughters start asking about 9/11.
I will also tell my daughters that in a bizarre twist of fate, nearly twenty years after the attacks, I got a chance to connect with Yvonne’s son while practicing social distancing due to Covid lockdowns. Simon Kennedy is an Australian performer, a world-class comedian, writer, author and one of my neighbours in Lane Cove. He was only twenty-six years of age when he lost his mother in a senseless attack.
When I reached out to Simon, I was focused mainly on understanding how he’d managed to find a publisher for his memoir, “9/11 and the Art of Happiness: An Australian Story” which came out in 2014. Like many authors, I struggle with finding people within the publishing industry who can give someone like me, an unknown with no celebrity status or a significant number of social media followers, the time of day.
What I hadn’t bargained for was hearing a deeply moving story of one of the most painful losses any human being could suffer in their lifetime. What justification can there be for the senseless killing of a beloved mother, one who’d devoted herself to making the world a better place? How could someone find peace knowing that there are terrible people out there who murder innocent people? I could just imagine how I would have felt in Simon’s shoes. Anger, resentment, hatred and revenge would overtake my being to the point of seeing a particular group of people I associated with the heinous acts as the enemy.
To put it in perspective, publishers and editors have not personally attacked me, unless you count ghosting as “weaponised silence” and I find myself doubting their humanity and putting them all in the same basket. Like most everyone, I can be full of unkindness towards other humans.
When I asked Simon repeatedly how he could go on living a full life, choosing to be happy, despite what had happened to him (and publishers not responding to this book he’d poured so much love and labour into) his mother’s spirit came through in his words.
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” – The Serenity Prayer
In the end, it was his Catholic faith that was the source of his strength to overcome the darkness within and to choose a path of happiness, connection and service. He chose life not death.
As for the terrorists? They’d chosen death and that made me question how genuine could someone’s faith in God (or Allah in my tradition) be if it leads them to death and destruction?
“Forgiveness is for people who express remorse. These men will spend the rest of their lives in Guantanamo Bay. I will not even wish the death penalty on them, because I don’t believe in the death penalty.”
When Simon spoke these words for the men who showed no remorse, I found myself quietly wishing that this idea of living a life in accordance with a moral compass would spread far and wide.
Simon kept his connection with 9/11 silent until Osama Bin Ladin’s capture in 2010. The stories he heard in the media made it clear to him that now was his turn to speak up and share how he was living beyond his personal tragedy. As he started sharing his story, a book started to take shape. Lane Cove Library was where he did most of his writing, three times a week over the next few years.
Like what I find with my memoir writing, one of the best things that surfaced for Simon was healing and also a chance at piecing back his own life. Unless we revisit our memories, we forget them. When we sit down to write, we catch a glimpse of how much we’ve lived through and a whole new appreciation for ourselves emerges out of that. I would go as far as to suggest that daily writing is essential self-care.
However, there are downsides to writing – rejection from publishers.
Simon had done a significant amount of work to polish his manuscript and despite that, he could not find a publisher who gave him the green light. Then something interesting happened. One of the publishers he’d submitted to early on in his journey heard him on “Conversations” with Richard Fidler on ABC Radio. Fast forward, Simon’s book got published in 2014 and is available for purchase on his website and Amazon (ebook and print). Furthermore, during the recent lockdowns, he recorded the audiobook version available on Google Play and audible.
As a writer, accept that rejection is a part of the journey. My recommendation is to keep writing and to do it for you and your family, who will treasure your stories. If you find a traditional publisher, that’s an added bonus. Also, bear in mind, you can always choose a self-publishing option like WritePublishGrow, and that way you have full control of your work.
Over to you…
Are you living a life free of hatred, bias, prejudice, and other trauma responses? One way to tell is a feeling of ease when it comes to expressing yourself.
Maybe start writing about it… or painting, or gardening, or volunteering for a cause you believe in.
It’s never too late. And we never know what tomorrow may bring.