We eased into comfortable conversation. Customers came and went, and the time passed pleasantly. Life was good in our comfortable suburban community.
Little did we know that as we chatted about our kids and play dates and how to get a fussy eater to eat anything green, 65 miles north of us, a tragedy of unfathomable proportions was happening. And we’d remember this morning for the rest of our lives.
At 8:46 a.m. a hijacked airplane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Seventeen minutes later a second plane crashed into the South Tower. These never-before-experienced acts of terrorism altered our country forever.
I’m sure you, too, know where you were that day.
Seventeen people in our community were killed in 9/11 and my church family felt deeply connected to this tragedy. In the months following they sent teams of volunteers to St. Paul’s Chapel.
|Front gate of St. Paul's Chapel. Photo: www.trinitywallstreet.org|
In early January 2002, Dan and I went with a team from our church to work the overnight shift at St. Paul’s. For twelve hours we helped serve food, distribute supplies and control entry into the chapel. I remember little of what I did that night, but I will never, ever forget what I saw.
Ground Zero exuded raw emotion. Grief, shock and despair intermingled with hope, compassion and peace. The fence surrounding St. Paul’s had become a tribute to 9/11 victims. Loved ones, friends and strangers covered the iron fence surrounding the property with flowers, candles, cards, stuffed animals, pictures, flags and mementos. Inside the chapel, sympathy cards, pictures, posters and banners—made mostly school children—covered every bit of wall space and the backs of pews. Children even donated teddy bears to comfort workers.
The relief ministry of St. Paul’s testified to a remarkable and interwoven story of selfless giving, random acts of kindness and unending compassion. Thousands of people came to volunteer, and it seemed that every family and every school child in America had sent some expression of comfort in response to 9/11. It wasn’t a New York or an East Coast tragedy. It was a universal one, and the entire country shared a collective shock and grief.
It would have been so easy for Ground Zero to become a place of hate. Of bitterness. And revenge. Surprisingly, and incredibly quickly, it became the opposite. It became a place of grace. The unlikely reaction to acts of pure evil was an outpouring of pure love—love that set aside religious differences, racial prejudices, economic inequities and socio-economic divides. Love that came together to mourn, to console, to feed, to soothe, to cry and even to laugh. Love that showed the best of humanity in response to the worst of it. There was no question of where God was. He was there in that church. I have never experienced the totality of His perfect love in such a powerful way before or since.
If I hadn’t witnessed it with my own eyes I might not believe it. But I did. And I do.
To be continued...