This is the story of how Winnie the Pooh made a difference in my life, and in the lives of my family members a few weeks before and directly after the 9-11 tragedy on September 11th, 2001.
Once upon a time there was a woman who had enriched her life by embracing extended family members on two continents. Every day, she thought of them and about how she could stay connected with them and get to know them better. One day she found out that a new baby was expected by a family member over in Finland. Because of that, she began to save her money and make a plan to visit, soon after the baby was born. And because of that, she was able to visit during her summer break from teaching in August of 2001. Until finally, she arrived in the small town of Karkkila, Finland and met a beautiful baby girl…
“You’ll never return to Finland. You won’t be here to watch her grow up.”
Those words are burned into my memory forever, though they no longer have the sting they did two decades ago.
She was fourteen months old when I held her for the first time. Shy and sweet and oh, so beautiful. Our eyes met and she kissed me on my nose. Her blond hair and blue eyes captivated me from the moment I’d arrived. So I did not wait to give her the present I had brought for her from America.
“Winnie the Pooh,” she softly whispered as I placed the small bear in her outstretched arms.
“She already speaks English,” I exclaimed, and her parents smiled broadly. We took Winnie the Pooh for a walk in the park and played together in a pile of leaves. Everything was perfect on that day as I dreamed of a future on two continents with the people I love more than life itself.
These people are a part of my extended family in Finland and they mean the world to me. On that particular day, August 23rd, 2001 I was jet-lagged but happy. After carefully planning and saving up for this trip since before Emily had been born, I was finally under the same roof and looking forward to our visit.
This was not my first grandchild, yet I was experiencing something I had not felt before. Was Winnie the Pooh responsible for the deep connection that was building? The stuffed bear became a special friend for both of us that week. They were inseparable and I was included in the fun. We all wore matching sweaters and danced to songs on the radio. The week went by much too quickly and I vowed to return as soon as possible.
I have a saying that goes like this:
“Everything we do in life, every choice we make and road we travel is in preparation for something we will do in the future and have no idea about in the present moment.”
I could give you endless examples, but the one I want to share here is how I changed my life completely when I decided to come online in 2006. I’m now an author and entrepreneur and I think of the days when I struggled to figure out how to print a page of text from my 9 pin dot matrix printer and how I went from having two 5 1/4″ floppy drives to the first generation of hard drives back in 1984. Every step I took, the successes hard won and the disappointments too frequent, gently pushed me to become more patient, more detail oriented, more positive in my belief in myself as a capable human being. And during that week in August, 2001 I knew that I had been preparing to meet this precious child for many decades previous to that day.
Less than three weeks after I returned home, 9-11 happened. It was a Tuesday morning and I was home sick that day instead of in my classroom teaching my 3rd graders. For some strange reason I turned on the television around 8 o’clock and was at first puzzled by the images I was seeing on the screen. What channel was this? Thirty seconds later it dawned on me that we were under attack in the United States. I longed to be at school with my students who felt to me to be so very far away. Who was comforting them and helping them to make sense of what had occurred? Their innocence had been brutally snatched away, even though we were on the other side of the country.
It was the first time in my life experience that I felt the kind of pride in being an American that is typically reserved for veterans. And, at the same time I felt further away from the people I love who live in Europe. Would it ever be the same as it had been for me? When would we all be together again, either in Europe or in the States? I thought long and hard that fateful morning and came to the conclusion that I was stronger and more resilient than I had previously thought. I needed to be there for those who most needed me, both at home and abroad at this time and forever going forward.
And then the overseas call I had not been expecting came in just hours later. They seemed to know I would be at home during my usual workday.
“You’ll never return to Finland. You won’t be here to watch her grow up.” The words burned my ears and brought thick, salty tears to my eyes that cascaded down my cheeks and on to my lips. I would not allow an enemy of any type to keep me from the people I love.
“That isn’t true. Give it time. I’ll be back next summer and this tragedy will become a part of our past. And you will all be able to visit America, just as we have always talked about. Don’t underestimate me, or the United States, please.”
My family on both continents knows me to have certain superpowers that are revealed when the time is right. Sure enough, just over one year later I was back in Finland. This time, Emily had a new baby sister named Sarah. They played together on the rug in the bedroom, with Winnie the Pooh watching attentively from a child-sized rocking chair. It wasn’t only myself and Emily who were enthralled by Winnie the Pooh. Friends, neighbors, and anyone who spotted this chubby little bear found her impossible to resist. And as she rocked back and forth in the rocking chair, with only an occasional push from a nearby human, for just a moment I imagined that I heard a soft whisper coming from that direction. I leaned in closer to make out the message…
“I knew you’d be back. You’re not the type of person who breaks promises.”
I humbly nodded and thanked God for His tender mercies. Winnie the Pooh had been a conduit for this connection we all have. Leave it to a beloved character to make this type of transformation possible. My future was moving closer to me by the nanosecond.
I’m Connie Ragen Green, exploring the Hundred Acre Wood with Roo and Christopher Robin, and creatures great and small. Come along with me, if you will to a world filled with laughter, joy, and sunshine where all good things are possible. You’ve been preparing for this all along, whether you realize it or not.