Thursday, September 14, 2006

Remembering 9/11

Most Americans remember precisely where they were when they heard about the World Trade Center. They will never forget. Me too.

A friend of mine lives in NY and serves with the Red Cross disaster team. She shared her reflections of this year's 5 year memorial and said I could post it if I wanted to. It feels like the "right" thing to do. So, with gratitude for grace and compassion under duress, I introduce you to my colleague, Pat Berliner, SJ, PhD.

SABAT MATER: 9/11 Five Years Later

Once again, I was privileged to be present at a World Trade Center Memorial service. This, the fifth year, seemed especially significant, probably because the number 5 sounds different than four or six.

As always, those of us representing Red Cross gathered off-site at about 5 AM and went together as a group to the site, where we set up our tables of tissues, cookies and water…meager sustenance, but signs of manna in a desert of loss and sorrow, anger and pain.

This year, I was the Mental Health Leadership person at the “Family Viewing Area.” This is a long walkway area between the stage and the ramp to the “footprints.” From early morning, people lined the area, many with pictures of their lost loved ones, many with tee shirts with pictures and poems and other forms of remembrance for them, introduction to their loved ones for us. Overall, the entire site is filled with quiet sadness.

All day, I walked the area, carrying with me a box filled with our tissues, cookies and water, sustenance in the desert. As the first sets of names were being read, a young Marine asked me to speak with a woman who seemed very upset. As I started to walk towards her, the first bell tolled, calling to our attention the first plane crashing into the building. I, with everyone, stopped, standing in my aloneness and in my connectedness to all those around me.

Then, I walked over to the woman, a mother held in her grief. We hugged and spoke with our eyes. I, never a linguist, spoke with her in my terrible Spanish, saying (I hope) “the pain is always there, isn’t it?” She nodded, sobbed, held me tightly, as I held her. For several minutes, we were one in the grief…and in the recognition that it would be part of us forever.

When I went back to my “line of command,” the young Marine and I shared a look of gratitude to each other. I was impressed at the sensitivity of this young man and of his understanding that it was best for him to reach out; he, glad to have had someone to reach to.

Throughout the rest of the day, I extended the kindnesses which make us the human community…a bottle of water, a pack of tissues, a fig Newton bar or pack of Oreos, reminding us of younger and better days. Throughout the rest of the day, I felt deeply the power of the reciprocity of compassion. All of us were hurting; all of us were part of the healing.

At three o’clock (how significant) the site of Ground Zero, the place of the footprints, was closed. I had just before that made my last visit to this sacred ground. We do not know if or where our lost sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, relatives, coworkers and friends will be commemorated next year.

For the grieving mother there is, now and forever, even within her heart, no final resting place.

Thank you Sister Pat.

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