September 14, 2010

I Will Never Forget -- part one

It was a spectacular early fall morning. The sun sparkled in a cloudless sky. Low humidity and a light breeze hinted at the cooler days to come. I’d just dropped my son off for his first day of preschool and headed off to meet friends for coffee. We gathered to catch up and celebrate our preschoolers’ first day of school—and the few hours of free time we’d now have three days a week.

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:
Situated on the edge of Ground Zero, St. Paul’s became a pilgrimage site for the grieving and seeking. Weary construction workers, policemen and firefighters sought refuge inside as an army of volunteers provided meals, counseling, supplies, chiropractic/podiatry care, and sometimes just a hug and a smile. The chapel was transformed into a place of peace, rest and reconciliation.

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...


Anonymous said...

Kelli, there is only one other place since 9/11 that gave me chills and sobs.
Last Saturday, on the nineth anniversary of that horrific day at the Wells Fargo Center in Philly, the experience of eleven thousand women (in unison) singing "God Bless America" will be another moment I will never forget. There was so much power and God's grace felt by each and everyone attending.

I remember what and where. Saw the planes go into the World Trade Center live on TV, my whole body asked at that moment, was this the end????
I feel honored to be able to still be here and help to bring more people into the arms of God.
Thank you for a great post, can't wait for part two,
Blessings and Love....Peggy

Carmen said...

Yes, I remember where I was that day. I never knew all of what was going on in the sidelines. All we heard and saw was the tragedy, over and over again. It's so good to hear the positive aspect of such a horrible thing. You lose hope in the face of such evil, and it's easy to forget that there are those who care. A rather inspiring post! Hope you're having a wonderful day, Kelli!

Runner Mom said...

What a day that was. I had just dropped Jacob off at church preschool and was headed home when I heard it on the radio. From there, I went home, turned on the tv and sat there glued to the screen. The next night, our church had a prayer vigil unlike anything I've ever seen. We need to remember. Thanks so much for your post.
Love ya!

Terri Tiffany said...

Kelli, The more I read what you have done and how you have served those around you, I am in awe and amazed. blessings to you my friend!

Cheryl Barker said...

I had no idea you and your community were so closely tied to the events of 9/11. Can't imagine all that you experienced while in New York. But what blessedness to experience God's reality and love in such a powerful way in such a horrific tragedy. Thanks for sharing, Kelli.