I have never been wetter…. nor had less reason to regret being in that condition. I paused just long enough from rushing to the laptop to take up our conversation, to observe that the trip to have a second conversation with Richard Moore of Children in Crossfire had left a down coat famed for its lightness, weighing in at about 10 sodden pounds.
Richard Moore with His Holiness, the Dalai Lama (Center and Left)
His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama tweeted (yes you read that correctly!) of Richard Moore “Whatever Richard says, Listen to him.” So, when you get the chance to do that, in person, you don’t second guess the patron of Children in Crossfire, no matter the Biblical proportions of the Friday morning downpour that proved NYC taxis are indeed water soluble.
No Israelite who crossed the Red Sea, dry-shod, to reach the promised land, was more fortunate than I, when gifted with an invitation to attend a May 3 voyage of discovery issued by Barbara Jones, Ireland’s Consul General in New York.
Richard Moore and Barbara Jones
She greeted guests, saying “One of the things people talk about is 800 hundred years of oppression in Ireland due to colonization. Now that we have peace in Ireland, thanks to the Good Friday Agreement, I look forward to a distant future when people talk about Ireland and our 800 hundred years of reconciliation. We are at the start of an amazing journey of learning to live together, to respect our differences and to forgive each other in Ireland and in Europe, Richard’s story and vision lead us onto that path. “
Her words about a not-yet fully visible result were particularly apt, since her invitation included the story of how Richard had been blinded for life at the age of 10 when wounded by a rubber bullet from the gun of a British officer as he walked home from school in the town that had recently suffered “Bloody Sunday.” The man that little boy became, forgave and befriended the soldier who shot him and introduced him to the Dalai Lama as his “welcome gift” when the iconic leader Richard had named patron of his brave initiative visited Derry/Londonderry for the Millennium Conference marking Children in Crossfire’s Tenth Anniversary. Richard honors the fact that he finds no reason for bitterness or recrimination in his life, by finding practical ways to show others how they can join in this gift of forgiveness to a wounded world.
A Young Richard Moore with his parents
Now all that would seem quite enough to amaze and inspire. So, when I went today to confirm what I had heard and learned, it was a glorious shock to discover yet another story within Children in Crossfire’s story. He hints at it in his 2009 memoir borrowed for the title of this column, Can I Give Him My Eyes? The words quote his father Liam’s immediate response when told by the doctors that his son would never again see. And of course, they epitomize the heritage of faith, hope and love that he credits with continuing to make him the happy person he is today.
His surprising revelation today, was that It all really started in Mississippi. Sensing my puzzlement, he explained that he had gone to join an AFrI (Action from the Republic of Ireland) walk commemorating the astounding generosity of the Choctaw Nation. Forcibly removed from their ancestral lands in Mississippi, they walked the 500 miles to Oklahoma in a trek known as “The Trail of Tears.” But refusing to be blinded to the suffering of others, they dug deep into their meager funds and sent $170 to the Irish who in the Great Hunger’s nadir year of Black ’47 were themselves being driven from their land in a sort of transatlantic “Trail of Tears.”
Richard Moore as a child
The Choctaw-Ireland connection continued to touch and inspire. So, in the early 1990s when Richard was seeking inspiration for what he would do in his post-publican life, he had one of those moments of simple/blinding insight when AFrI turned its sight on the starving of Somalia. What Richard began to “see,” more clearly than if he were technically, “sighted” he said to me in a phrase that hit me with the power of a lightning strike. “People are dying from greed, not from lack of food.” He added. with simple, irrefutable power, “Poverty is a matter of justice.”
Those words, that insight, made me realize that that was the rest of the story I must tell. The heroism and courage of a family that taught their wounded little boy that though he could do nothing about his blindness, he could do something about anger and about forgiveness, thus sent him on a challenging new pilgrimage.
He went to Kenya and learned from a little girl named Tenya, of whom he says, “Her story is my motivation.” When he first met her in 2008 she and her family were among the 200+ who slept on the earth above the graves in a local graveyard, with no sources of food, no clean water. When her parents died, she became “Child head of household.”
Richard Moore with school children in Ethiopia
In the next few years Children in Crossfire raised funds to purchase 60 one-room apartments in which 60 families can be dry, warm and comfortable. Best of all they begin to know how to make the progress sustainable. Now at age 16, Tenya has a real job and tells him her only concern is that Children in Crossfire will stop being their partner in progress. Not if Richard and his team continue to believe that they can support the people on the ground in the areas of concern: providing start up help and long term tools and motivation to build capacity and to make it sustainable.
No “hit and run” doing good for Children in Crossfire. And no moving in to stay, either. As Tenya has been his motivation, he and the generous donors and tacticians of Children in Crossfire work to be motivators of the communities they help. They work tirelessly to build communities of concern that rely more on planting hope and nurturing self-respect and confidence. Their motto is “tomorrow is too late.”
You can tell a lot about a person from knowing who he sees as his heroes. Richard’s are his astounding parents and family who helped him see his blindness as the door to a new way of seeing, from sight to vision, you might paraphrase. His teachers who removed the barrier of doubting that he could be all he wanted to be.
There in the room May 3, Barbara Jones and her Consular staff joined their colleagues from the Northern Ireland Bureau to celebrate the reconciliation he personifies. He honors the visionaries who crafted, championed and accomplished the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement. John Hume is a hero for his brilliant insistence upon the fact that peace is a process, not a one-time lightning strike and the further insistence that it is only when one speaks with enemies that things can be changed, not just by “preaching to the choir” by talking always and only with those with whom you agree. Richard names Statesman and Negotiator George Mitchell for patient investment of his time and talent, reminding the parties that when he left, the peace, like the land, would be theirs to nourish and preserve. He commented that the grateful description of all the US and UK leaders who put their hand in the fire for Northern Ireland were a blessed convergence of “the right people, in the right place, at the right time.”
And I must add that we applaud the Dalai Lama for naming Richard Moore as his own hero.
All photos courtesy of Children in Crossfire