Sunday, September 11, 2011
The Church at Ground Zero
George Washington prayed here.
St. Paul's Chapel in lower Manhattan has stood since 1766. It's the oldest continuous use building in New York. Inside you'll still find George Washington's box pew on display. I'm sure our first president offered up prayers for the young country he helped create. Perhaps he prayed for citizens yet to come, hoping they would continue the selflessness that was so needed in those early years.
If so, his prayers were answered in the days and months following the attacks of September 11, 2001.
St. Paul's is a pebble's throw from Ground Zero. When the towers went down those who knew the chapel thought it had to be a goner. But miraculously it was untouched, save for the debris and ash that accompanied the destruction.
There was a reason for this.
The chapel became a base for the rescue workers. They came here for respite and sleep, often lying down right on the wooden pews. Their gear put scuffs and scratches on those pews in what many came to see as holy marks of what was taking place inside St. Paul's.
Over the course of time more than 5,000 volunteers would help turn St. Paul's into a place of refuge and recovery, refreshment and rest. Doctors and lawyers swept floors and served coffee. Single moms and teenagers took out trash and prepared food.
This was America coming together in a time of crisis. It was our true spirit displayed, our best side writ large. That's what I remember most each September 11: the rescue workers and volunteers who became the living, breathing embodiment of "Love thy neighbor."
So on this tenth year of remembrance of 9/11, take a few moments to put down the cell phone, rest the computer, turn off the TV, set aside the e-readers. Find a quiet spot and for a little while think about what's right with our country. Think about the ordinary citizens who, when the chips are down, spring into action and help those in need, and do so without a second thought.
Think about the African American woman, some eighty-years-old, who heard on the news that a worker at Ground Zero had hurt his leg. She got on the subway in the South Bronx and came all the way down to Lower Manhattan. She talked her way through the police lines, would not take No for an answer, and found her way to St. Paul’s. Inside she went up to one of the associate ministers and gave him her own cane to give to the man who was hurt. Then she quietly turned around and hobbled away.
Think about such things for just a little while, and be thankful.