For those of you who may not know me, I am Annie's Mom. That is a title that was conferred on me over thirty years ago when Ann Nicole Nelson came to live on this earth. It is a title that I shall gratefully and proudly wear into eternity.
It has been said that parents are a child's first and most important teachers, but as I stand here at her memorial service, I can only think of all the things that Annie has taught me. One of the first things that Annie taught me was how to play cards. When she was about four, she used to wake me up early in the morning to play "Gold Swish." Naturally she made up her own rules and always won. I was really too tired to care. From this I learned that it was important to choose your time and place carefully. Strike when your opponent is most vulnerable.
I don't know if you believe in angels, but I do, and I like to think that Annie is with them now, laughing and loving and making up her own rules at cards.
Annie taught me to live for today. To remember and learn from the past, plan for the future, but live for today. Many children want to grow up fast, but not Annie. She was wise enough to appreciate her childhood. She relished it. At age five she went through a stage when she wanted a baby brother or sister, but after a while she stopped asking. When I inquired, she simply said, "I've changed my mind. I like being the youngest one."
As she grew older and began to contemplate some of the more global issues of life, she never seemed discouraged or overwhelmed. She never asked, "What can one small person do to change the world?" She just took one step at a time and began her journey, dragging us along behind. Now when I consider her accomplishments, I know that I will never again underestimate what one person can do. Annie taught me the significance and power that lies within an individual life.
Since September 11th, I have often mentally cried out from the depth of my soul, Annie! Come back and give me a big hug-let's have one more of our heart-to-heart talks. Let's take just one more trip together. Then I seem to hear her voice remind me that now she can be with me each time I talk or walk or travel. She can be with all of us now all the time, as long as we keep her in our hearts and minds. "That's not good enough," I argue, "I want to see you. You know that I need to see things." Then I seem to hear her answer, "You will see me."
A little later someone tells me that Cantor Fitzgerald is going to be featured on 20-20. I turn on the TV and sit glued to the screen waiting to see my Annie. But with breaking heart I am disappointed. The program is nearly over and I have not seen even a brochure about her among the missing. Then again I seem to hear her voice say, "Wait".
A story begins about some young girls from Afghanistan being beaten because of their manner of dress. Later I see a group of them that have fled into Pakistan in order to go to school. I look closely into their faces, I listen to their young female teacher explain the great danger they are in--and then I see her. It's hard at first because their eyes are brown, while hers were sparkly green, their skin and hair are slightly darker and they have covered the lower part of their faces while she wore only a bright smile, but I could see her. The same determination to succeed, the same willingness to go wherever necessary in order to learn. The same belief that the pursuit of knowledge was worth great risk and sacrifice. Even if it meant losing ones life in order to make this world a better place.
From this I learn that it is not enough to care only for our own children. We must care for all the children. We must make sure they have food, clothing, shelter, and a good education.
During one of Annie's recent visits back home, she reminded me that I needed to "choose my battles". The way she lived her life and the way she has transitioned into the next has taught me that we must fight to rid our world of violence, terrorism and fanaticism. We must fight for justice, peace, understanding, and compassion among the people of this earth. We must each do the job that we have been created to do to the best of our ability.
The leaders must lead, the warriors must protect, the singers must sing, the painters must paint, the writers must write, the speakers must speak, and the teachers must teach. All of us must pray for divine guidance as we wage this worthy war.
Eli Wiesel writes: When we die, go to heaven and meet our maker, he is not going to ask us why we didn't become a messiah, or discover the cure for some terrible disease. The only thing we're going to be asked at that precious moment is why didn't you become you? Annie should have little trouble with this question because she specialized in being herself and bringing out the best in others.
These are but some of the things that Annie has taught me. I suspect that she is not finished with me yet.
Annie knew that it was important to say thank you. I remember how sincerely and frequently she thanked us for our efforts to help her accomplish her goals. I know she would want us to thank you for being here today and for the many loving things that you have done to help us bear our pain and to make this service beautiful. Most of all, she would want us to thank you for loving her and sharing her time here on earth. For Annie knew that you, her friends and family, were life's greatest gift to her.
This speech was given by Jenette Nelson at the Stanley, ND Memorial Service.