“…the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.”
The sound is almost overwhelming as the sickening thud of felled trees, one right after another, causes the entire earth to shake beneath my feet. The maddening buzz of saws fills the air as progress marches sadly forward on the property across the street. Once beautiful woods are now giving way to a muddy stubby mess as blue sky abruptly punctuates what was once a shadowy lush green canopy, all the while as worrisome thoughts of what is soon to be hangs heavy in the air.
Disconcerted and rattled with each crashing tree, my thoughts thankfully drift away, thousands of miles away across an expansive ocean, to a very different forest of trees.
Perched high on a hill overlooking the serene harbor of Kinsale, a colorful fishing town found on the southeastern coast of County Cork, Ireland, is an unassuming park. This park isn’t the sort of destination topping the list of must see places for those visiting Kinsale. Far from the shops, restaurants and fishing piers that make Kinsale a favorite stopping point for those visiting Ireland, rests a serene respite I was fortunate to visit.
We had spent the day driving around much of County Cork. We had visited the seaport town of Cobh which is steeped in history. It was in the city of Cobh which was most often the last piece of Ireland that many an Irish immigrant savored before setting sail for America during the infamous Irish potato famine. It is also in Cobh that the few remaining survivors, as well as the recovered bodies from the ill fated Lusitania, the passenger ship that was torpedoed by a German U-boat in 1915, were received following the sinking of the ship. Cobh is also the town in which the Titanic set sail on its tragic maiden voyage.
Having spent the day stepping in and out of history as we enjoyed the idyllic coastal fishing villages around Ireland’s south easterly coast, we were ready to head on back to our hotel in Kinsale, to dinner and to calling it one more day rich in sights and wonders. But our driver and friend Paul had one more stop this day that he knew we needed to see and experience–this stop was to be much more current and personal in our lives as Americans then the sad exodus of immigrants or the tragic losses at sea.
Kathleen Cait Murphy was a local girl from Kinsale who spent forty years of her life living in New York working as a nurse. It was from her time working in New York that she both admired and befriended many a New York firefighter.
Kathleen was a personal friend of firefighter chaplain Father Mychal Judge, who along with 343 fellow firefighters, lost his life on that fateful 11th day of September 2001.
Before her death in 2011, Kathleen envisioned a memorial to not only her friend Father Judge but to all the firefighters who made the ultimate sacrifice that ill-fated beautiful blue sky September day in 2001.
Kathleen, with the help of family and friends, planted 343 trees, one for each fallen firefighter. The trees have now grown creating a forest of gratitude and love.
Each tree has a small marker with the name of a firefighter, his fire house and rank as well as an individual American Flag.
I stood in silence overwhelmed, as tears flowed freely down my cheeks, amazed and humbled by the image of the 343 American flags gently waving in the Irish breeze underneath a tiny forest of beautiful trees.
So often, as a traveler, I am on guard as I know that Americans are not alway looked upon favorably by others. Even our own Government has us feeling almost ashamed as to who we are as a Nation. Yet here on “foreign soil” as I stood awestruck, I was a tiny spectator of a poignant tribute to the very Country I call home as well as a tribute to a portion of her very brave and selfless sons and daughters who made the ultimate sacrifice. I imagine those who visit Normandy feel very much the same, albeit on a grander scale than this, but humbling none the less.
It is because of such a tribute and memorial that we are allowed to turn our hearts…as we are gently reminded that we mustn’t hold on to the anger and hate, the rage and righteous indignation which so often fills our minds and hearts as we recall such a fateful day. Rather it must be to the hope and to the light cast from the sacred bond we share as human beings—It is because of these very humanistic qualities which make us more alike than different–those shared emotions of both joy and sorrow which bind us, unconditionally in love and to the shared respect we have for one another as human beings.
No, we will never forget that tragic September day which remains still very fresh in our minds and hearts, yet it is to the selflessness and compassion of Kathleen Cait Murphy that we may recall such sadness with a ray of hope, the bond of kindred spirits and a wellspring of gratitude that others share not only in our grief but in our hope as well…
Thank you Paul…
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.