This week we passed the eleventh anniversary of 9/11 and my thoughts turned back to that infamous day. I’m sure you remember how racial tensions mounted during the weeks that followed. Those tensions inspired me to write a children’s story. It has been sitting in a drawer for just under eleven years and I thought this might be a good time to share it.
The Rope of Friendship
There once was a village, nestled beside a towering granite mountain. The mountain was so tall and smooth that no one from the valley had ever climbed it.
A mosque, a synagogue and a chapel stood apart in the village. Cottages surrounded each meetinghouse and the three congregations never mingled . . . well, almost never.
When the sun dipped behind the mountain, people drifted like shadows though the valley. That’s when Rashad left his home by the mosque and crept through a field of grain to Jacob’s home by the synagogue.
He climbed an oak tree. With legs wrapped around a heavy limb, he inched down until the branch dipped and scraped Jacob’s window. SCRIIITCH.
Jacob peered through the glass then snapped the curtains closed.
“What’s that noise?” his mother asked. “I hope the cat isn’t in our storehouse.”
“I’d better go look,” Jacob answered, and hurried out the door.
“Rashad!” Jacob scolded in a loud whisper. “Mama could have seen you.”
“She’d never think I came to find you.” Rashad laughed. “She knows our people don’t mix.”
The boys crept along a dry creek-bed to the chapel. They gathered a few pebbles before dashing to Peter’s house.
A light shone from the window. “He’s in his room,” Rashad whispered, then tossed a pebble at the glass.
A moment later Peter grinned out at them, then climbed down the rose-covered trellis. “Ouch!” he cried when a thorn pricked his hand.
“Shhh,” the boys hissed.
Peter missed the last trellis rail and tumbled to the ground. The boys covered their mouths to hide their laughter as they ran.
They followed the creek-bed to a huge tree, deep within the woods.
“No one’s touched it,” Peter said, pulling a fallen limb from beside the tree.
They tossed aside brush and uncovered the end of a thick braided rope they had woven from vines many months before. Up they climbed, until they reached a platform hidden in the branches above. It was their fort, where, week after week they played together in secrecy.
But this evening was different. CRACK! BOOM! CRASH! Thunderous sounds shattered the stillness.
WOOOOSH! A blast of dusty air nearly tore them from the tree. “Ahhhhhhh!” they screamed as they clung to the lurching branches.
A dust-cloud rolled over them, covering the mountain, covering the moon that had brightened their path.
The boys scrambled down the tree, coughing. “What’s happening?” Joshua sputtered.
“We’d better get home!” Peter said. The boys pulled their shirts over their noses and sheltered their eyes as they struggled toward home through the dust.
When they came to the village they found people huddled in the streets, coughing and staring in shock. An enormous slab of granite had split from the mountainside. Gigantic boulders had crashed down, destroying crops and livestock. Thick gray dust was settling into their wells, turning water to sludge.
“Go to your homes!” the Rabbi called.
“Shut out the dust!” the Priest and Imam advised their followers.
Early the next morning the villagers gathered around their leaders at the foot of the mountain. Each group stood separate from the others.
“We have no food or water,” people complained.
They looked up the mountain. A high plateau, that had been hidden behind the granite peak, now shown in the sunlight. “Look at that grain,” a villager called, pointing to heavy stalks nodding over the edge.
“There are wild berries,” called another.
As they gazed, an old man looked down from the edge of the plateau. He saw the destruction and then looked back at the wild, rich land behind him. If only the villagers could climb the mountain they would have plenty to eat.
The old man tied three long cords around a stout tree and threw them down to the people. One to the north, one to the south and one right down the middle.
The crowds applauded. The Imam, Rabbi and Priest each grabbed a cord and chose a follower to go up the mountainside.
Three villagers pulled themselves up. Hand over hand they climbed until –SNAP – the cords broke and they tumbled down.
The old man dropped three more cords — one to the north, one to the south, and one right down the middle.
More climbers were chosen. Again the cords snapped and people tumbled down.
Rashad, Jacob, and Peter stared at each other across the space that separated their groups. Then they nodded, one to another, and snaked their way through the crowds.
When they reached their leaders, they each asked to try the climb.
The Imam scowled, the others growled and shook their heads. Then, looking down at the boys they realized their small size might help. The leaders shrugged and held out a cord.
Each boy grabbed one and ran to meet at the foot of the mountain. The people gasped.
“Get back!” shouted the villagers. “We don’t mingle — what are they doing?” The boys ignored the shouts and worked together, weaving their cords into a long braided rope, just like the rope they’d woven for climbing into their secret fort.
One after another the boys climbed — up to where the first men had fallen and still the rope held — on to where the next climbers had dropped but the rope did not break. Farther and farther they climbed until, finally, they reached the top.
At first, all was quiet on the mountaintop, but soon a murmur crept up from the valley below. It buzzed and grew, rising to a cheer that echoed through the valley and up the mountainside.
Then the villagers helped one another climb the rope, until all were settled above.
Working together, they soon built a new Mosque, Synagogue, and Chapel, side by side, on the wide plateau.
Ever after, this day has been remembered. The villagers hold a yearly Rope Festival. They play music and eat baked apples, baklava, and challah. Throughout the day, people drop by the weaving post where long strands of cord hang from a pole. They dance the weaving dance Rashad, Jacob and Peter taught them. By the end of each festival, a thick braided rope stretches down from the pole.
Many strands of cord make the rope strong — just as many strands of friendship make a village strong.