SEPTEMBER SEEMED to be rife with the unexpected - first, the terrorist attack; and then, last week's tornado. But in a month of unanticipated chaos and devastation, there was a nice surprise for some young east Columbians and a congressman from Illinois.
Colleagues of Rep. Danny K. Davis threw a surprise party for the Democratic congressman's 60th birthday. But that was only part of the surprise - the bigger surprise might have been for Patrick Walls, director of orchestras at Stevens Forest Elementary School. He received an invitation from a group of congressmen requesting that he and the schoolchildren provide the musical entertainment for the party Sept. 6, held at the National Democratic Club in Washington.
The idea to invite the children came about when Franz Stuppard, who works for Davis, was helping with party plans. When the subject of entertainment arose, Stuppard had a brainstorm. "I said, 'Hey, instead of looking for a professional band, why not look to the schools?'" he recalled. And he knew just the school - Stevens Forest Elementary, where his fifth-grade daughter, Natalie, plays violin and clarinet.
You might think that Walls and the youths spent months preparing for their performance, but that was hardly the case. The request arrived one week before the party.
"It was hair-raising to say the least," Walls said.
The children, all current or former members of the Stevens Forest orchestra, practiced several selections from their repertoire along with the "Happy Birthday" tune. But, two days before the party, Walls had another surprise - a last-minute request to perform the Democratic theme song.
"We had two days to figure out what that song was," Walls said. "But we threw it together. I wrote it out and arranged it myself."
Performers were, from Stevens Forest Elementary: Malena Silva, Natalie Stuppard, Simon Duquang, Sebastian Martinez, Jordan Barrow, Sarah Thorne, Aaron Mogren, Missy Jameson and Mary Kate Bellora; from Oakland Mills Middle School: Daniel Berman, Victoria Silva, Bria Walker, Joey Ruggiero, Jennifer Tippetts and Molly Barnes; and from Burleigh Manor Middle School: Michael Price.
Guests also included Stevens Forest Principal John Birus, Assistant Principal Monterey Morell, band teacher Jack Jackowski and parents Evelyn Mogren and Felicia Walker. Walls said he was astounded to see how beautifully the pupils played. "I couldn't have been more pleased" with their performance, he said.
Walls was not the only one to be impressed with the youngsters. "[They] were so inspirational. They just proved to be the highlight of the day," said guest-of-honor Davis, a former schoolteacher.
Words of comfort
Shortly after the Sept. 11 tragedy, a poignant poem on the subject, "Remembering the Americans," appeared in Borders Books & Music in Columbia Crossing. It is lavishly matted and framed with touches of dried flowers and glimmering stones and is prominently displayed at the entrance to the store.
Curiously, there is no sign anywhere of who wrote it.
"A lot of people express interest in it. 'Who did it? What is it for? Can I get a copy?'" said Borders general manager Heather Lurie, a resident of Long Reach.
For the poem's author, penning the piece was as natural a reaction to the shocking events as donating blood or raising the American flag. She did not care about recognition - just sharing her thoughts with the community during a difficult time.
The author who touched so many Borders customers is Sondra Liburd-Jordan, who lives in an "out-parcel" on the west side of town. She is a writer of "inspirational, motivational words," she said, who custom-writes essays and poems to commemorate occasions or people. But this piece, she said, is different.
"It's something to share with people. I think people are grieving internally. It's a sharing of the heart."
Liburd-Jordan said that she was restless and unable to sleep after the attacks. Writing the poem proved to be a catharsis for her.
"I didn't feel a sense of peace until the 12th [of September], after I wrote it," she said. She felt a strong connection to the people at the Pentagon - her husband, Ron Jordan, worked there for a time while in the Navy.
Writing the poem gave Liburd-Jordan some comfort and she hopes others derive comfort by reading it. "I write for myself and I write for the world. Hopefully the two come together," she said.
Sondra Liburd-Jordan's poem "Remembering the Americans" gives a human touch to last month's terrorist attacks, recognizing that every victim, rather than just a statistic, was someone's friend, relative or neighbor. An excerpt:
I lost a friend today ... an American
He was the son with a future; the daughter with dreams
He was the father of hope; the mother of joy
She was the teacher who pushed; the pastor who prayed;
He was the brother who said "I love you" a thousand times
She was the nurse who smiled; the uncle who gave;
the neighbor who listened; the friend who came;
She was the grandmother who never let go
He was my love; she, my life
Indeed, I lost a friend today ...