This time of the year is sacred for me. I remember my friends...and through them, all who have passed away. I was in my office when the call came: Jean is missing; we fear the worst.
I rushed out of my office, spoke briefly with colleagues, and went home. I knew where she was.
My friend, Jean Donovan, and three nuns (Dorothy Kazel, Ita Ford and Maura Clarke) had gone to El Salvador to provide food, shelter, and medical care for the poor. They were warned of the danger, but they loved the children and refused to leave.
Jean returned to the U.S. briefly in the fall of 1980, and as she held my baby son, she talked about her upcoming nuptials and her desire for a family. Normal topics for a 27 year old. I urged her not to return to El Salvador, but her response was lighthearted, "where else do roses bloom in December." Then she shared her deepest fear--that she would be found in a ditch, raped and murdered. Her fear became a reality December 2nd.
I cannot look at a rose without remembering Jeannie, Ita, Maura and Dorothy. But today, I also find myself thinking about all the war-torn areas across the globe--where so many families are in tears, among the roses. 30 years have passed since my friend's untimely death, but it seems that only the geography has changed.
What do we need to do to stop the violence?
Ita wrote to her niece about four months before she was killed. It's a letter meant for all of us.
The odds that this note will arrive for your birthday are poor, but know I'm with you in spirit as you celebrate 16 big ones. …
What I want to say...some of it isn't too jolly birthday talk, but it's real... Yesterday I stood looking down at a 16-year-old who had been killed a few hours earlier. I know a lot of kids even younger who are dead. This is a terrible time in El Salvador for youth. A lot of idealism and commitment is getting snuffed out here now. …
Brooklyn is not passing through the drama of El Salvador, but some things hold true wherever one is, and at whatever age. What I'm saying is, I hope you come to find that which gives life a deep meaning for you...something worth living for, maybe even worth dying for...something that energizes you, enthuses you, enables you to keep moving ahead. I can't tell you what it might be -- that's for you to find, to choose, to love. I can just encourage you to start looking, and support you in the search. Maybe this sounds weird and off-the-wall, and maybe, no one else will talk to you like this, but then, too, I'm seeing and living things that others around you aren't...
I want to say to you: don't waste the gifts and opportunities you have to make yourself and other people happy... I hope this doesn't sound like some kind of a sermon because I don't mean it that way. Rather, it's something you learn here, and I want to share it with you. In fact, it's my birthday present to you. If it doesn't make sense right at this moment, keep this and read it sometime from now. Maybe it will be clearer...
A very happy birthday to you and much, much love,