From Chicken Soup for the Soul of America

BOWS Across America

When events occur that we don’t expect, they increase our faith, strengthen our ability to endure, and bring forth our hidden talents, abilities and strengths.

Iyanla Vanzant

Like so many of us, I was stumbling around on the Saturday after the September 11 attack on our country, wondering what to do. How could I help, and was it really true that someone had leveled the World Trade Center with a couple of hijacked airplanes?

It was not a time to sit around the house, so I headed into town. The local firefighters were out collecting money for New York, flags were flying on buildings and cars and motorcycles, and banners hung on bridges and around horses’ necks. People were walking around the lake, heads down, and the town was unusually quiet and yet just as active as every other Saturday in a tourist town in the Rocky Mountains.

I stopped at the coffee shop and went from crying at the sight of a four-year-old with American ribbons in her hair to a sudden and immense pride in the country where I lived. In a moment’s time I found myself at the fabric store searching for some way to display my American pride. One small piece of flag fabric, a pin, and some red, white and blue ribbons were left in a basket in the corner, so I bought what they had and wondered to myself why I never had owned a flag to fly. In a time of national crisis, with a renewed sense of patriotism, there was not one to be had in the entire city of Denver. I felt somewhat ashamed of myself.

The fabric and ribbons turned into a bow that I wore to church the next day. Before the service was over, ten people wanted a bow just like mine. I found myself saying, “I’m selling them for five dollars, and all of the money goes to the New York Fire 9-1-1 Relief Fund. How many would you like?”

The next day I wore my bow to work and quickly realized that this was a way I could help. After one hundred orders, I went to the nearest fabric store and bought the only bolt of flag fabric and all the pins and ribbon they had. It took three nights of making bows before I could get through the evening without tears. This simple process of creating with my hands was helping me to heal. Not that any more sense was being made out of the attacks—just that each bow represented a positive energy to replace the worn-out sadness.

This project needed a name and a mission. I woke up one morning with the acronym “BOWS Across America—Bracing Others With Support.” The mission was then to make a bow in memory of the people who had lost their lives on September 11. If we made 10 or 50 or 150,000 bows, our pride would just grow and expand, and there would be no need to stop making bows, I thought. Just as not having a flag to fly when I most needed it, why wouldn’t people display a red, white and blue bow on their chest whether it was Christmas, the Fourth of July, Tuesday or St. Patrick’s Day?

Within a week, teachers from seven elementary schools requested materials to make bows. Local grocery stores allowed the kids to sit outside their doors and sell the Patriot Ribbons to shoppers. You should have seen the concoction of bows and ribbons presented in everything from Easter baskets to shoe boxes. Some of the fabric was cut in half; ribbons were tied on the ends and in the middle and looped in long lengths to fly in the wind. Safety pins were stuck through the bow, in the front and on the back. Through it all, people lined up to buy bows. Some gave one dollar, others gave twenty dollars, but everyone gave either a smile or hug, shed a tear or said, “God bless America.”

I needed to share the idea with friends. Perhaps it would help them heal a bit, just as it had helped me. I packaged up the bows and shipped them to people requesting them in other states. One person bought a bow and shipped it to a friend somewhere else in America, and now before I knew it, the project was launched in eleven states. My dear friend in Texas said, “I wasn’t dealing with the pain and sadness. It was much too hard to bear. So I was denying it instead of trying to help someone else, as this bow has shown me how to do. We must honor the victims.”

Within a few weeks, we sent the Relief Fund more than five thousand dollars—or one thousand bows sold for one thousand heroes. Before long, new schools helped, people from other states called from churches and youth groups. People wanted to help in some way; because the “not knowing” part this attack brought makes the helplessness too hard to feel.

One thousand bows, one thousand heroes, more than four thousand additional lives to honor. God bless America.

Lisa Duncan

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