Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Greatest Gift of All

by the Rev. Carlton Elliott Smith, UUA Southern Region Congregational Life Staff
I don't cry often while watching television, but this morning the tears fell as I saw the dedication of the 9/11 Museum at the site of the World Trade Center Towers. Hearing and seeing the survivors and the first responders, listening to the last voice messages of those who perished in flight ... I was moved beyond words.

If I were certain my life was ending in a few minutes, who would I call? What would I say? If someone I loved called to say they were about to leave forever, what would I say? What would I do? I ask these questions, then multiply them times the hundreds and hundreds of lives lost on that clear September morning.

I was living in Boston at the time of the attacks. My partner called me from his office and told me to turn the television on. I watched transfixed until both of the towers collapsed, then I was completely overwhelmed and turned the news off, feeling the weight and the loss of those lives that day.

Seven years later, I began an interim ministry at the Central Unitarian Church of Bergen County in Paramus, New Jersey. It was there that I met long-time members Herb and Andrea Ouida (oh-WEE-da), whose 25-year-old son Todd died at the World Trade Center. As a child, Todd suffered with debilitating anxiety disorder. After his death, his parents founded The Todd Ouida Children's Foundation (, a nonprofit organization that supports psychological services for children from low-income families and works to end the stigma of depression. The Foundation has raised more than a $1 million to date for projects such as an art-therapy center and a summer camp for children who lost loved ones on Sept. 11.

Some of the conversations that take up our time and energy seem abstract. As we debate about the value of a new UUA logo or the advantages of moving our Association's offices off Beacon Hill in Boston, the work of saving lives, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and loving beyond belief goes forward. While we attend our meetings, join together in worship and advocate for justice, may we remain aware of the fragility of each of our lives. Every day, we have the chance to radiate as much love as possible to each person we meet. When tragedy strikes, may we follow the example of the Ouidas and reach out in love to others who are in need, just as we are.

Life is the greatest gift of all the riches of this earth

Life and its creatures great and small, of high and lowly birth

So treasure it, and measure it, with deeds of shining worth*

In faith,

*Singing the Living Tradition, #331