Post by Bethany Hegedus
A month after 9/11, I sat in the wooden chairs of Town Hall on West 43rd street, and listened to Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mohandas K. Gandhi tell stories of living with his grandfather at the Sevagram ashram as a boy. Arun had been invited by Paul Tenglia of Unity New York, to speak to the city. To help us heal. Arun spoke that night about many things but the thing that stuck with me most was his story of his grandfather relating to him that anger was like electricity. I turned to my friends, Maggie and Dawn Marie, and whispered “these stories should be a picture book.” They nodded and by the end of the talk, I felt more alive than I had since turning on my office computer that Tuesday morning. I was coming back to myself.
I took the postcard advertising Arun Gandhi’s talk home with me. The company I worked for had relocated to the Grand Central area, first occupying the hallways of other branches of CIBC Oppenheimer, and then later moving into our own space a few blocks away. I hung the postcard on my bulletin board and often I’d stare up at the Mahatma’s face while I worked.
I had moved to NYC to become an actor, but instead discovered I was a writer. The day job as a receptionist allowed me to work on my fiction when I wasn’t answering the phones or greeting clients. I continued to stare at the Mahatma’s face, close my eyes and hear Arun’s words, all the while telling myself though Arun’s story should be a book for children, that I was not the one to help write it.
Why would he work with me? I wasn’t published. I’d only been writing a year or two. I’d never been to India. I wasn’t a Gandhi scholar. I had no ties or connection to Mr. Gandhi but still the thought didn’t leave me, “his story would be a beautiful picture book.”
At the time, I was working on what would become my first novel, Between Us Baxters, which is set in the civil rights era. I had long been a student of this time period, and came to know Gandhi’s work because of his influence on Dr. Martin Luther King. The thought of a Gandhi book wouldn’t leave me as I worked on my novel, and one day, I had the thought: The Mahatma believed we are all one. Perhaps his grandson, despite my lack of credits, won’t see me as unworthy either.
I searched the web, checked with the minister who’d invited Gandhi to Town Hall to see if I had the correct email address and finally after months of trying to talk myself out of it, I sent Mr. Gandhi an email, asking him to work with me. I mentioned hearing his talk, being a 9/11 fire searcher at One WFC, and my love of children’s literature and the novel I was working on. I did everything I could to say yes to myself as I made the biggest ask I had ever made, hoping he would feel my passion and know I was the right person to tell this story.
On January 29, 2002, Arun sent back his reply. It was a yes. Many nos were to come, but we had both said yes: to each other, and to the importance of the story.