In the terrible terrorist attacks of September 11, thousands of our fellow citizens were buried under the rubble. The rest of us have been buried under the rubble of words that followed. It is hard to criticize such words; all of us utter trivial platitudes in moments when events simply exceed our capacity for reflection and insight.
For a couple of hours on September 11 I, along with a lot of other people in southern Manhattan, had to face the real possibility of sudden and violent death as buildings collapsed and the streets filled with choking dust, fumes and falling debris.
When I told my family less than a year ago that I was going to move to Chicago to work for the Christian Century, one family member protested. She was concerned, in the aftermath of 9/11, about me working in a downtown location where, she feared, terrorists might strike next.
After the twin towers collapsed, Washington Square United Methodist Church in Greenwich Village opened its doors and telephone lines to crying, shaken passersby. “Then the walking wounded began appearing—folks who had walked out of the ‘ground zero’ area,” reported Jacquelyn Moore in a widely circulated e-mail message.
At noon on September 11 the chapel of the Interchurch Center at 475 Riverside Drive was filled with people who didn’t know the fate of loved ones, and people who could not get home, as Manhattan was sealed off.
These past days the church has been open. People have come flowing in bearing pictures of “the disappeared,” sent by St. Vincent’s Hospital two blocks away, where the chapel was overwhelmed and the need had become too taxing for a staff readying for the arrival of the victims—victims who never came in anything like the expected numbers.
When the first aircraft hit New York’s World Trade Center during the morning rush hour on Tuesday, September 11, young children were arriving at Trinity Wall Street’s pre-school, staff were on the streets around the center, and Archbishop Rowan Williams of Wales was preparing for a videotaping with Trinity Television. Daniel P.
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