year ago, September 11, the world, it seemed, turned upside down.
I was in the shadow of the North Tower when it collapsed. The
weight of so much death, so much sorrow was more than the mind
could absorb. But it was not too much for the soul.
all that mattered were people and kindness. Even in a place usually
so preoccupied as New York City, the order of things was overturned—
instantly—and has never been the same.
we saw the thousands flocking to the site to serve and help, before
the semi-trucks began to roll in from small towns across America
through the middle of the night laden with gifts of supplies,
before the bushels of rainbow-colored cards and banners filled
with the tiny handprints, misspellings, and creaky syntax of children
saying thank you to the heroes poured in from everywhere, before
these visible signs, and so many, many more like them, something
else must have happened first. Something like that simple prayer:
"Lord, send me" spoken in the hearts of thousands, if
was just an instinct. It was automatic. Even
in the moment of paralyzing fear, utter helplessness and complete
insecurity, hearts were stirred with a selfless generosity that
transcended all the rest.
St. Paul's Episcopal Church, located literally across the street
from the devastated World Trade Center, that generosity of spirit
prevailed from almost the beginning. From September 12, 2001,
to June 2, 2002, St. Paul's was home to a twenty-four-hour-a-day
ministry aimed at the physically and emotionally depleted rescue,
recovery, and relief workers at New York's Ground Zero. A community
of 5,000 volunteers, most of whom had no previous attachment to
St. Paul's, worked unceasingly to feed, comfort, clothe, massage,
counsel, worship with, and provide a place of sanctuary and rest
to the thousands of constructions workers, firemen, police men,
sanitation workers, and chaplains who poured into Lower Manhattan.
Work at the Pile and the Pit went on ceaselessly around the clock,
and St. Paul's was always open, never closing its doors until
the last remaining emergency workers left the site nine months
later, in early June.
you read in the following stories, those of us who lived through
the unbuilding of the World Trade Center, while serving and living
in the extraordinary community of St. Paul's Chapel, discovered
things about faith and being human we didn't know before. These
discoveries are expressed in various ways through the following
conversations, recorded mainly at St. Paul's, the most recent
ones collected for the forthcoming service of remembrance at the
Washington National Cathedral at 8 p.m. on September 11.
is my hope that these stories may be shared widely, because
in listening to these voices we hear something we all need to
hear: the liberating, transforming grace that infused us at our
Ground Zeros in New York and Washington. We hear
this through these voices in a plainspoken way that is simple,
direct, and powerful. These are the voices of people who have
known, first-hand, that faith and trust can actually lead to the
formation of a community completely founded in altruism, humility
and love, cutting across every conceivable human divide. These
people know what such a community feels like, because that's what
our experience at Ground Zero became for a time.
believe this community still exists, and that it might even act
as a kind of leaven in our churches, in our cities and in our
world in the coming year. Some of us call its spirit "nine-twelve"—as
shorthand to describe what began to happen the day after in people's
hearts, and is still happening and still seeking avenues of expression.
group whose voices follow now knows the incredible vulnerability
of large scale suffering and death, of having one kind of security
taken from us. It knows a kind of new life with a totally different
sense of what security is. We've begun to shift, as you can tell,
from placing our hope and faith and identity in things that do
not last, to putting all that faith and hope in things that do
- like genuine mutual love and self-sacrifice, altruism and service.
has taken, and always takes, courage. It takes an unshakable faith
in goodness, and then a passionate desire to enact that goodness,
to proclaim, to protest, that love is stronger than death, that
it cannot be conquered by acts of hatred. This takes a compassion
that is larger than despair and anger.
Colleen Kelly says it best. Colleen, the bereaved sister of Billy
Kelly, who was struck down that day at the WTC, has become a world
activist for restorative justice through the group she has co-founded,
9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. She speaks for so many of
us when she says that, as strange as it may sound, she is a more
hopeful person since September 11, and believes this act has the
potential to "lead to so much greater good...I
still believe that good will overcome, that goodness will overcome,
and that my worldview has not been shattered.
There were too many good things that happened that day, and all
the days afterward - the thousands and thousands and thousands
of acts of kindness. If anything, I am more firm in my belief
in God; more firm in my belief in family; more firm in my belief
that there is an overwhelming goodness in the world, and that
goodness will overcome."
those words, I invite you to explore the lived faith that empowered
the relentless acts of love and seeking of the lost in the recovery
efforts at our Ground Zeros this year, and to hear how that faith
transformed both individuals and communities.
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