Something I post every September 11th. Pray for peace.
“But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate — we cannot consecrate — we cannot hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
The Gettysburg Address
November 19, 1863
It was early on Tuesday morning as I got dressed and ready for work. Molly and Keely were still asleep when the phone rang and my Mother’s broken voice came across the line, “Turn on the TV, Christopher!” The image of that first tower smoldering in the New York Skyline is still fresh in my mind, ingrained there with so many other images that came into homes and business throughout that day on screens too small for the enormity of the event.
A few weeks later the call came from The Salvation Army Headquarters that they needed officers to volunteer for duty at Ground Zero; I had my name in the same day. There were five of us from California and we arrived in New York October 15th of 2001. We went through the standard briefing, received our assignments and then they took us to Ground Zero. When the subway arrived at the Chambers Street station you could feel the quiet, the normally bustling crowds subdued and solemn.
Words fail to describe the scene at the World Trade Center. Photographs may be worth a thousand words, but a thousand words would not be enough to describe what that place of desolation felt or smelled or sounded like on that day. Those with me said little and walked on in silence around the perimeter of Ground Zero. With each stop we would meet the men and women who worked diligently to recover those who had fallen what seemed ages ago. They would smile and welcome us to the work, but the weariness and sorrow in their eyes was deep.
Our team worked at Ground Zero for two weeks and much could be written about what we saw and heard in those 14 days, but I will only share one event as the nation remembers September 11th, 2001. I was assigned with a fellow officer to man a rest tent across the street from the World Trade Center and what was now called “The Pile.” We provided drinks, snacks, basic first aid supplies, magazines and other items for the recovery workers, but we also served as chaplains as the need arose.
I was by myself one evening (I worked the shift from 11pm to 11am) when a firefighter asked if I was a chaplain. I answered “Yes” and followed him to The Pile. The crews had just uncovered an elevator car and were recovering the remains of seven people; seven sons and daughters taken from their resting place to be identified and laid to rest again with honor and dignity. As they lifted each stretcher from the hole, an American flag was draped across the body and then they placed the stretcher on a motorized cart to transport them to the morgue. I was asked to accompany one of the fallen and took my place at the foot of the stretcher and waited to make the walk.
That is when the siren sounded. One long, deep clarion tone and everything stopped. Truckers stopped their dump trucks and shut off the engines. Cranes paused with loads of debris still in their grasp. Dozens of workers stopped where they were and faced the Pile, hats off and held over their hearts. A hush settled on that hallowed ground and we began the long procession to take the seven on their way to loved ones and a better resting place. It was one of the most noble and honorable moments of my life.
Over the next few days that moment rested in my heart and mind and changed the way I saw what was around me. Perspective comes at a high price sometimes, but then it can help us value what we ought. Our team headed back to California on October 29th, ready to be with family and to consider all that we had seen the past two weeks. I remember seeing my little girl, Keely, waiting with her mother in the concourse. The sound of, “Daddy! Daddy!” was the sweetest sound I had heard in weeks. She ran toward me and I toward her and we hugged and cried and mommy joined in soon after.
It has been 15 years since the towers fell and America rose to the resulting challenges and I have not forgotten that moment. Each day is a day to live the life that hateful men tried to destroy. I will spend this September 11th with my family. I will go and worship God with my brothers and sisters in Christ. I will rest at home with my wife, daughters and extended family. I will celebrate the life I have and give thanks to God. We will play and laugh and eat good food. We will snuggle and watch funny cartoons and read a book or two. There will be days ahead when grief will visit us again, but we will not let it stay for long. If you let it settle in and get comfortable, it is harder to kick out and it does not suffer roommates. This day is about God’s grace turning mourning into dancing.
Love your family, be grateful, remember what was sacrificed so you don’t forget what was gained and never take freedom for granted. Remember the words of Abraham Lincoln, “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”