July 4 Memories from my Sister in NYC
I wanted to share one story with you of a special little spot in Manhattan: St. Paul’s Chapel in the Wall Street district.
Saint Paul’s is part of Trinity Episcopal parish and is the oldest public building to be in continuous use in Manhattan. It was built in 1766 and was the chapel George Washington came to pray the day of his Inauguration. It has become most recognized today because it is located directly across the street from the World Trade Towers. On Sept. 11 when the towers imploded, pieces of the buildings showered over the chapel and graveyard. Inside the chapel, the parish had already set up stations for relief workers, first-responders, and grieving families searching for their loved ones.
For over 8 months, this small simple chapel was the center of comfort both physical and emotional for tens of thousands of people. Twenty-four hours a day/7 days a week, volunteers of all kinds–podiatrists, massage therapists, cooks, chaplains, “just caring folks” and more provided whatever they could for the bone and heart-weary people.We first stood across from St. Paul’s and saw behind the steeple the partly empty sky where one World Trade tower had stood and a silver shining new tower with only a few more floors yet covered in glass and steel. This 247 year old structure sits humbly in sharp contrast to the soaring modern buildings of business around it. Though there were many people in the chapel, we all walked through in almost hushed reverence, looking at the photos, the letters, the piles of insignias left by grateful rescue units from around the world. We walked around the building to the old graveyard in back. Though the road and construction noise from the new tower site is deafening, there was still a “feeling” of silence among these worn headstones and the shade of the trees in full leaf.
I remembered well that day–September 11, 2001. Mom was in Fort Lauderdale and, as was my habit, I called her early in the morning to chat while I had my coffee. She, as was her habit, was watching the Today Show. She always turned down the volume while we talked but she suddenly said, “Why are they showing a picture of the World Trade Center with smoke coming out of it?” I said it was probably just the anniversary of the 1993 World Trade bombing or something. I turned on my TV and we were in shock as we watched the horror unfold before us. For the next hour we stayed on the phone, watching and praying together. I said, “This building is going to implode. It can’t keep burning like this. ” No sooner had I said that when the tower collapsed. For the next week Mom and I were on the phone a lot, just needing to connect for comfort as we tried to absorb the enormity and deep suffering of this devastating event.
For the next month that year we all were the best we are capable of being as a people, a nation and a world. Though much has happened in the intervening years because of this tragedy that is not so noble, when I was at St. Paul’s I felt it was still hallowed ground, a prayerful spot where the pain, suffering, caring and humanity was embraced and salved. I knew that this was the right place to leave some of Mom’s ashes and that of another friend’s mom. I tucked them in the cool, damp ground under some flowering plants in the graveyard, not far from a small American flag someone else had left. They will now nurture these plants surrounded by this special place and people. Amen. Amen.