Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Weekend of Remembrance (2): 9/11

from Empire State Building, 1993

The Day and Its Days
Perhaps every generation, especially in a world that is as connected as we are, has those days.

Pearl Harbor.
The End of WW II.
JFK's assassination.

Now there was 9/11. Today it is seared in memory.

First words come flowing out:
  • Uncertainty
  • Fear
  • Disbelief
  • Searching
  • Questions
  • Phone Calls
  • Absolute disbelief
Ground Zero, June 2006

Our daughter was in Spain. She had only been there a little less than two weeks and her Spanish wasn't good enough to get the full drift of what was happening. All she knew was it was something BIG and BAD.

She called. "What it is? What's happening?"

We didn't know, of course. All we had was the TV reports that told us little- because they knew little.

Those words were what we went through. We didn't know what to do- but we knew it was not going to be business as usual. Even in a country as physically large as ours, we figured there is more to this than New York. Then we hear of the Pentagon and a deserted field in southwestern Pennsylvania. Airplanes are grounded. The cloud of death where there used to be the towers.

Normal? We wanted normal but had no idea if- or how- it would show up. So normal became little things. For my wife it was the appearance of the mail carrier walking into the church office with the day's mail. For me it was going up the street to sign up for DSL high-speed Internet. Innocuous details. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Which is what we wanted.

Then comes the desire to do something. Calling other local pastors to decide what we as churches could do. From that moment of paralysis to a moment of some kind of possibilities, whatever they might be. We kept busy, we planned prayer services. We stared at TV. As we worked on our prayer service we tried to figure out what it meant and what we wanted to have happen.

What we wanted was unity and a sense of purpose in it all. With no planes flying and people all over the country trying to put together some ways to get home, we were all stuck- physically and metaphorically. We had to be "at home." We had to look at ourselves and figure it out.

We then learned of the everyday heroes on the flight over Pennsylvania. We discovered the amazing bravery, sense of purpose, and dedication of firefighters and police officers and workers helping others through the cloud of unknown.

Slowly things began to settle. And we saw more everyday  heroes.

The New York Yankees playing in the Bronx.
David Letterman's amazing opening monologue when returning to the air.
Jon Stewart giving us perspective.

Ground Zero, June 2006

The tensions continued as anthrax showed up and questions kept popping up. Everyone kept telling us that nothing was ever going to be the same again, but we didn't know what that would mean. Everyday life resumed, but we were no longer as naive about our security, or perhaps our invincibility. Perhaps we even began to wonder over those initial weeks if this might bring about the same kind of uncertainty and distrust in our government's ability to protect us as Watergate had done almost 30 years earlier.

But for me it still goes back to two iconic pictures.

First is the one here on the right.

No, there us nothing new to say. It still rings loud and clear.

It describes 9/11 with a sense of ongoing hope and promise.

Second is the picture of Father Mychal Judge being carried from the rubble.

There is a human face and amazing story in Fr. Mychal's life and death. An everyday hero who has come to symbolize so much of what is good about so many people.

From Wikipedia:
Upon hearing the news that the World Trade Center had been hit, Father Judge rushed to the site. He was met by the Mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani, who asked him to pray for the city and its victims. Judge administered the Last Rites to some lying on the streets, then entered the lobby of the World Trade Center North Tower, where an emergency command post was organized. There he continued offering aid and prayers for the rescuers, the injured and dead.

When the South Tower collapsed at 9:59 am, debris went flying through the North Tower lobby, killing many inside, including Judge. At the moment he was struck in the head and killed, Judge was repeatedly praying aloud, "Jesus, please end this right now! God, please end this!", according to Judge's biographer and New York Daily News columnist Michael Daly.

Shortly after his death, a NYPD lieutenant, who had also been buried in the collapse, found Judge's body and assisted by two firemen and two civilian bystanders carried it out of the North Tower lobby to nearby St Peter's Church. This event was captured in the documentary film 9/11, shot by Jules and Gedeon Naudet. Shannon Stapleton, photographer from Reuters, photographed Judge's body being carried out of the rubble by five men. It became one of the most famous images related to 9/11. The Philadelphia Weekly reports the photograph is considered an American Pietà.

Mychal Judge was designated as "Victim 0001," recognized as the first official victim of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Other victims perished before him including air crew, passengers, and occupants of the towers, but Judge was the first certified fatality because his was the first body to be recovered and taken to the coroner.
Fr. Judge, a recovering alcoholic for the 23 years prior to 9/11, had a prayer. It has become, for me, one of those prayers that keeps me grounded in the right ways and right places:
Lord, take me where you want me to go;
Let me meet who you want me to meet;
Tell me what you want me to say, and
Keep me out of your way.

— Fr. Mychal Judge, O.F.M. Chaplain, New York Fire Department Copyright ©2001 Holy Name Province

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