“We want to tell the people of Afghanistan that we don’t hold them responsible for the actions of a few terrorists…. As Americans, we’re bigger than Sept. 11.”
– Emergency Service Unit Detective Thomas McDonald
The New Year is approaching fast as I write this in late December. Looking back on what started out as such a hopeful year, it is hard to see back past the darkness of September 11. It’s as if all the good times and deeds of several lifetimes got swallowed up in the black smoke of the burning towers.
Yet, as I write this on December 21, the day of Winter Solstice, I know that in Newgrange, Ireland’s ancient burial mound in Country Meath, on this very morning, as it has for thousands of years, the rays of the rising sun pierced the gloom and bathed the inner chamber in a golden light that signaled the season of rebirth and nature’s promise that the darkest days always beget light.
The ancient Celts believed that Solstice is the moment when the old solar year dies and the Goddess gives birth to the Divine child (the new solar year). According to ancient myth, Newgrange, which dates to 3000 BC, older than the Pyramids, is the abode of Aengus, the great god of love.
I have need for such myth now. A need to think on the eternal cycle of birth, death and rebirth. A need to look at the history of my people and all people and the tough road of their passage and know that they have endured. And I have a need to believe in the god of love — for love is the most powerful weapon of all.
Out of the darkness of September 11 has come not only an outpouring of love and compassion but a shift in our perception of what “greatness” means.
This was never more evident than at the fundraiser for Denis Leary’s Firefighter Fund. The event was replete with Hollywood stars, but the firefighters in their dress blues were, as Jill Fergus tells us in her interview with Leary, the main attraction.
It was one of several events that I’ve attended in the last couple of months that lifted my spirits. Another was our Business 100 lunch on November 20, two days before Thanksgiving. Tom Coughlin, the president of Wal-Mart was our keynote speaker. Tom, one of 10 children, exudes warmth and humor. He talked about the best of Irish traits, instilled in him by his Irish grandfather. “Never be a quitter” is one.
Like so many Irish, Tom’s father had been a fireman and then a policeman, and one of the things that made our lunch so special was the presence of members of the Police and Fire Departments.
I think that we Irish have need for such gatherings now. We have need for community. A need to talk about the events.
We know the necessity of friends and family coming together in the best tradition of an Irish wake, not to mourn the dead but celebrate their life.
The American Ireland Fund, which promotes peace and culture in Ireland, held a holiday gathering and announced that it had donated a million dollars to the fund for the victims of Sept. 11. Several of our “Wall Street 50” who had lost colleagues and family were in attendence — a testament to how important Ireland is to Irish Americans.
Another event that lifted all our spirits was the “Healing” concert in Yankee Stadium. As our Irish representative, tenor Ronan Tynan did us proud. In an interview with Siobhan Tracey in this issue, Ronan talks about one of his own proudest moments — being named an honorary fireman.
The firemen and police continue to inspire. On this Winter Solstice day of light, a group of New York City firemen and cops will deliver 45 tons of humanitarian aid to the people of Afghanistan.
Emergency Service Unit Detective Thomas McDonald said, “We want to tell the people of Afghanistan that we don’t hold them responsible for the actions of a few terrorists…. As Americans, we’re bigger than Sept. 11.”
Thomas is the brother of Steven McDonald, who has made three peacekeeping missions to Northern Ireland, though confined to a wheelchair after being shot in the line of duty.
If it takes reminding of what we have to be grateful for this holiday season, the two McDonald brothers do the job. Steven will again travel to Ireland for the January 31 anniversary of Bloody Sunday, which reminds us to be thankful to the Americans who provided the blueprint for the Good Friday Agreement and hopes for a more peaceful future in Northern Ireland.
Of the many messengers of love around this holiday season, one is the aptly named Father “Aengus” Finucane, whose Irish relief organization Concern is to be found in every troubled spot in the world and is presently in Afghanistan, bringing food, shelter, education, hope and love.
As John Lennon sang, “All We Need Is Love,” and sure wasn’t he Irish too. May the god of love shine his light on all of you in the coming year. ♦