A Circle of Peace: A 9/11 story the year after

There are moments in life that ververberate like the sound after a Tibetan singing bowl is struck with a mallet. The sound moves outward and outward and outward–hopefully evoking good and centering force in the universe.

Sometimes in travel, there are those experiences where you notice how diverse the crowd is and how well folks are getting along. This is where Louis Amstrong’s song “It’s a Wonderful World” would play if life really was a musical.

Those moments can feel like healing for those times when people don’t get along. At least that’s how it is with me.

There is a room of New Delhi called the Hall of Peace where middle schoolers gather once a week for the school assembly. Dozens of nationalities are represented, and these are kids who will eventually move on in the world with visions of the world’s people in the make up of their skin.

On September 11, 2002, this is what happened there. The result was as if someone struck a singing bowl. This day each year, I can hear its sound.

[Continue reading for the reason why.]

Art of Diversity forms a Circle of Peace

At 3:35 on that Wednesday afternoon, the time students generally rush out the doors, middle schoolers at the American Embassy School in New Delhi needed to be reminded it was time to leave. They were gathered in the Hall of Peace, the school’s main meeting place where flags of many of the nearly 60 students’ nationalities hang.

On this particular Wednesday, a year from the day that students wondered if it was still safe to go to school, these adolescents transformed the H.O.P. with art. On September 11, 2002, nothing was said about the horrific occurrence of planes crashing, buildings falling and people dying.

Nothing was said about worries and fears. Not a word about what would happen if India and Pakistan do not resolve their differences, or if Israel and Palestine do not resolve theirs, or what will happen if the US does follow through with its threats to attack Iraq.

Terrorists had no place in the Hall of Peace on this day. But, children, their teachers, their support staff, and their principal did. At 3:35, gathered in a circle that no one told them to form, they were looking at doves. Not just a few doves, but more than 100. These were large, flat, wooden cutouts that each student, along with a partner, had just finished painting minutes earlier.

This school in New Delhi exists mainly for the expatriate community’s children whose parents, from various countries and for various reasons, work in India. The people who go there to teach and learn recognize that its population looks like a miniature UN. On a few occasions, the power and wonder of this mix connect together.

On September 11, 2002, through this middle school-wide project, art teacher Anja Palombo brought nations together. It only took the use of the school cafeteria, a dozen teachers, support staff, 210 students and an open-minded principal, all armed with acrylic paint, brushes and pre-cut , flat wooden doves to create a world vision where only peace has a chance.

Symbols like olive branches, Om and peace signs and hearts echoed the words that other students chose. “Heal Thy Environment,” “Harmony,” and “Peace is Hope” were written in English. Other messages were written in languages such as Hindi, Chinese and Danish.

With their bursts of blended colours from pastels to almost neon, and small glued-on mirrors, symbols and words, the doves took on personalities as varied as the students who painted them. Students like Kina, Prashant, Masetle, Fatimah, Soo Young, Beth and Tamas Pataky, worked with heads bent together in a buzz of festive activity.

Creating peace is not particularly quiet. Sometimes it involves moving about a spacious room filled with tables, choosing paint carefully and discussing ideas. It means making space at a table for any Buddhist, Christian, Jew, Hindu or Muslim to join in. It also involves allowing for participation of those with varied abilities, even those who take longer to come up with an idea. But, eventually, the ideas do come, and the collective whole becomes more than just any one person’s vision.

When students stood in the Hall of Peace looking at the doves they carried from the cafeteria on that recent Wednesday, the excitement was not just at seeing their dove amongst the others. It was in seeing the diversity. No two doves looked alike, not even if they were made from the same shaped cutout.

Peace as a collective contains many versions. The doves, now mounted on H.O.P.’s walls, seem as if they are soaring and dancing with each other under the nations’ flags. When people come to this gathering place, they do not find the danger of terrorism. Instead, what they find is a circle of peace.

[The original article was submitted to The Times of India who printed it. I adjusted the paragraphing to make it easier to read here and adjusted some wording.

Many of the students who were in this room are now in their first years of college.]