Remembering 9/11 with “14 Cows”

As we approach the anniversary of 9/11 I have struggled with what (if anything) I should do at school to acknowledge the events of that day nine years ago.  See, the thing is even my oldest students (3rd graders) weren’t even born yet.  But I know for sure that the media coverage will be heavy that day and parents and friends are likely to be talking about it.   My students hear the words “nine” and  eleven” together often, I’m guessing. Yet I don’t want to alarm anyone, don’t want to dredge up scary memories or raise questions I can’t answer.

Carmen Agra Deedy’s book 14 Cows for America is an answer to my dilemma.  It tells the beautiful (true) story of Kimeli Naiyomah of Kenya who was a student at Stanford but in New York City on September 11.   Nine months later with a heavy heart he returned to his Maasai village where he recounted the horrors of that day.  He writes, “To heal a sorrowing heart, give something that is dear to your own.”  His offering to the American people would be the cow that he had worked so hard to buy for his family’s livelihood.  The cow symbolizes life among the Maasai.  The elders  bless Kimeli’s cow and make it sacred and other villagers are moved  to make a gift to the U.S. of fourteen cows in all, because “some pains are too big for one chest to carry.”  The book does not dwell on the events of 9/11, but rather on one extraordinary gesture that came after.  My tears as I read it reminded me again that in the midst of all the devastation and horror there were many, many acts of compassion and grace.  This is what I will choose to talk about and remember on Friday as I share this book with my third graders,  and on Saturday when I reflect in silence.

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