September 11, 2011 A day for Remembering
I kept the e-mails I sent to family on September 11 an in the days that followed. Here are some excerpts.
Subj. This morning Date: 9/11/01
We live less than two miles from the World Trade Center. As I walked out this morning I saw people on the street all looking downtown. someone handed me binoculars and said the WTC was on fire. I went to vote where a neighbor told me that a plane had crashed into the building. When I was inside the second plane hit and we knew it was a terrorist attack. I walked across town to buy some art supplies and in the store someone said the Pentagon had been hit. The manager said he was closing the store an everyone had to get home. They’ve closed the subways and all ways in and out of the city. As I headed home I heard all the people on Fifth Avenue scream and that was when the first tower collapsed.
Say a prayer for all those souls, for the emergency workers and for our country.
Today our church was as packed as it is for Christmas and Easter. We sang ”A Mighty Fortress is our God,” “There is Balm in Gilead” and “America the Beautiful”, all three full of words to cherish but two lines really spoke to me. “Oh Beautiful for heroes proved...who more than self their country loved and mercy more than life.” Our firefighters, police and emergency workers, the iron workers and construction workers are such heroes.
These words from Thomas Wolf were printed in the bulletin; “To lose the earth for greater knowing, to lose the life you have for greater life, to leave the friends you loved for greater loving, to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth, whereon the pillars of this earth are founded, toward which the conscience of the world is tending, a wind is rising and the rivers flow.”
The scripture lesson was from Romans, Chapter 8; “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” The friend sitting next to me gasped at these words. They’re hard to understand but when was the Bible ever easy?
This evening I walked along the Hudson River and watched the sun go down over New Jersey. (It was more poetic than it sounds.) Part of the park there is under construction and people have tied yellow ribbons all over the chain link fence, each ribbon holding a message. Everyone wants so much to do something. Day spas are offering free massage and treatments to all relief workers, coffee shops near Ground Zero are giving free coffee and snacks, the animal hospitals are offering help in retrieving pets who were abandoned in the first evacuations.
Things are struggling back to normal here, or to whatever normal is going to be from now on. People are saying that the feeling in the air here is sad. I don’t know if I would call it sad. I think there’s more eye contact made and we’re all trying to be gentle with one another. Everyone seems to be thinking about the same thing and all irony has been eradicated. Flags are everywhere as I guess they are in the rest of the country.
As we sing “God Bless America” and as we consider what we will do in response to the attacks, saying “Wanted Dead or Alive”, and “Let’s bomb them all” I hope we also sing America the Beautiful, especially the third verse:
“America, America, God mend thine every flaw, confirm thy soul in self control, thy liberty in law.”
Some are holding God responsible. That’s a place I won’t go to. I don’t have answers but I know what I learned with our family’s losses--of Larry, Matt, Mary Gae, Joy Joy and Dave; that if I were to blame God and turn away I would lose the source of comfort and strength that is always there. As William Sloan Coffin said at the death of his son, God’s heart was the first to break. I believe that all those innocent souls, all those happy faces on the posters for the missing, when they left this earth mounted up with wings as eagles, as it says in Isaiah.
Did I say I wan’t feeling sad? Here is a verse from Jeremiah that has always helped me; “For I know the plans I have for you-plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Subj: Two weeks after
I voted today, which is what I was doing when it happened I cam out of the polling place and looked down Washington Street and tried to remember what the towers looked like. I can’t remember where they fit in the landscape, or how tall they were. It’s like when you lose someone and can’t remember his face. I look at pictures of the towers and can’t believe how tall they were. It’s like leaving a funeral and thinking, Wow, there’s so much about her I never knew. The twin towers were my least favorite landmark here because they were so out of scale and so uninteresting to draw but now I miss them terribly and regret all the mean things I said about them.
The 8x10 missing posters are still papering the wall of the city but their meaning has changed. They’ve become memorials; they say, this is what she looked like-I need you to know about him, how much he meant to me.
When we said good-bye to Uncle Dave in January Arthur said to me, That’s enough funerals. And I agreed.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
That’s what I had to say then. On September 15 Captain James Gormley of Engine Company 40 at Amsterdam and 66th posted a letter in the neighborhood in which he spoke of the men missing from his company. At that time he still held out hope for their rescue.
He ended his letter with these words;
“Pray. Do not underestimate the power of prayer. Hope remains. Make your hope contagious. Inspire confidence in one another. Be polite to each other, it makes life easier. If you despair, act courageously. If you are scared, stand up straight and march forward. That’s what we do. Children, kiss your parents and tell them you trust them. Tragedy may yet visit us, we will face it. Together. We are not giving up. Maintain your health, we have lots of work to do. Allow yourself rest. Embrace the path God puts you on. He has his reasons and he does not tell us his secrets. Again, I ask you to pray, because Hope remains.”
What I remember about that day is this. In the afternoon I went out to see what was happening and if there was anything I could do. I thought of giving blood, so I headed to the nearest hospital, Saint Vincent’s. The sidewalk outside of Saint Vincent’s ER was lined with gurneys with clean white sheets, waiting for the injured who never came. I was directed to a place where they were taking blood donations and saw that the line was five blocks long, and they were only taking O-positive. There was a sign outside my church saying there would be a service of grief and lament at 6.
Everyone was saying; We’re ready to help--we’ll do anything it takes.
I’ve always loved this city, but never more than on that day.