Friday, September 10, 2021

We Remember, We Celebrate, We Believe: Welles Crowther and His Red Bandana.

I stood before all those in attendance at the Notre Dame Alumni Association's Fall Affinity Groups Meeting to lead our closing prayer but my mind and my heart wanted to share a message must different than the one I had prepared. I suddenly got choked up as I realized the gaiter around my neck is a red bandana.

Today, my Sports and Spirituality class at Saint Francis High School in Mountain View, CA is learning about Welles Crowther. Welles was a lacrosse player at Boston College and dreamed of being a fireman. After graduation he worked as an equities trader at Sandler O'Neill and Partners. Tragically, he lost his life while making heroic efforts during the 9/11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center. However, twelve men and women are alive today because he led them through the rubble of the 78th floor to the stairwell. 

Rather than descending all the way to the bottom of the south tower, Welles went back in and up. To me, this is why Springsteen's song and album "The Rising" is poignant and powerful. Through music he articulates what is nearly impossible to put into words—the total sacrifice, and heroism of people chose otherwise. Those he saved did not know his name, they simply knew that he wore a red bandana.

There is a book and a movie about this life. The video my students saw today is this one. I encourage you to watch it now and consider the questions I have posed for my own students.

  • Can an ordinary object ease agony?
  • Can an ordinary object create legacy?
  • How can someone be gone but still with us?
  • Have you ever played a game that honors another person? Have you ever dedicated one of your games in honor of a friend, family member or cause?
  • Identify a personal object of your own, maybe this is something that you wear or have at home. It might be something that was given to you, or something you got from someone you love—that is of personal significance to you. What is it? What is the story behind it? What is the lesson or reminder it offers

What they don't yet know, but will learn is the red bandana is a sacrament (lower case "s) and to be a Catholic is to celebrate the sacramental life.... one that we can understand and share through prayer.

A gift from his Dad, Welles wore a red bandana as a young boy.

The prayer I had written was one thanks for the Notre Dame family, one that is seeking unity in our diversity. I offered thanksgiving for the Notre Dame spirit—a force for good, guided by Mary, Our Mother. With gratitude for the hospitality that has been extended by leaders at the University, I asked for continued blessings in the work we all share and a prayer that we return renewed and recharged to our homes with "a warrior's heart, an immigrant's spirit and a servant's soul." We heard these words at our introductory session and they capture the life of Welles. The prayer I wanted to offer in that moment was in remembrance of him and all those who have given their life in service to others. I hope this post serves as its own prayer.

Tomorrow marks 20 years the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. I will begin the day with prayer at Notre Dame. As written in "Notre Dame News, "
30-minute prayer service on the South Quad to begin at 8:46 a.m., the time the first plane was flown into 1 World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. Notre Dame President Emeritus Rev. Edward A. “Monk” Malloy, C.S.C., will preside, as he did for a Mass of remembrance in the same location on the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001. Mary Elizabeth Stern, director of faith and service in Student Government, will serve as emcee, and the Notre Dame Folk Choir will provide music." I will wear what I wore today: a red bandana. A sacrament for all to see. 

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