Saturday, October 8, 2016

15 year remembrance - Tuesday 9/25/01

This is the last of my September 2001 postings.
Date: Thu Sep 27, 2001 12:57 am
Reply To:
Subject: Catching up - Tuesday 9/25

It seems like a long time since my last note - but only six days. Last Wednesday I applied, was screened, and trained by the American Red Cross to do emergency bereavement counseling. Since then I have worked four shifts at the Pier 94 Family Assistance Center, and that has helped keep me busy.

It has been an awesome and wonderful experience. All the more so because I know with certainty that God called me to it and has been upholding me and confirming me in it. It is a rare and holy privilege to share peoples' lives at this time. I cannot say much more, except that it is tiring and energizing and heartbreaking and filled with joy.

"What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor" (Psalm 8:4-5).

I don't think I'm just blissing-out to cope with stress. It feels like the fulfillment of things which have been a long time in preparation. The stress is still there, and there will be hard work and pain and obstacles to come. But death does not have the last word.

In a few moments break from my Saturday class, I knew it was time to get around to hanging the artwork that has been stacked in a corner of my dorm room. Ansel Adams' poster of a magnificent solitary tree in the California hills (Oak Tree, Sunset City, California; A rubbing from this summer's trip to China, of a very intense, maybe slightly crazed Bodhidharma sitting in meditation. And today one of my favorites, Marc Chagall's Bridges Over the Seine ( I would have hung this sooner, but it's in a hard to reach spot. To me it says rest, and comfort, and security even in the midst of night; infantile and adult fantasies taken seriously; mystery and passion and succor and love.

This week people are owning up to being tired and in need of rest.

I may be leading the pack, for in addition to schoolwork (barely treading water) and the chaplain's work, this weekend I needed to finish up a project for the American Bible Society, a 5-part bible study on anger, for high school age. Although the study itself doesn't refer to 9/11, it's one of several things they're rushing to get out in the aftermath. (The project had been in the works for some time.)

1. I'm so mad I could kill you!
2. Is God angry at me?
3. Taking anger to God
4. Holy anger
5. What do I do with anger?
Suggestions-ways to work with anger

It turned out to be timed right for me at any rate, since I ran into a very angry guy on the way to school Monday morning, on the PATH train. Anger has not been one of my strong points. But when I heard him - as did the rest of the PATH car - talking about how we should not take any chances, but just bomb everybody, I knew I couldn't let that go unchallenged. After arguing for a minute, I slowed down an introduced myself, as did Frank. A minute later, the anger was gone, and we were talking about the fear that was behind it.

Last night (Monday 9/24) I got a chance to work out some of the tension. Union Seminary staffed a 24 hour period of shifts doing relief work at the WTC site.

A digression: naming the site. I have been generally reluctant to use the term "Ground Zero." On the one hand, it is quite apt. The wreckage looks thoroughly blasted. And like the atomic explosions which gave rise to the term, the blast effects spread outward from this central point, not just in the surrounding neighborhood, but in the millions of lives of those affected, like a wave spreading out from a stone dropped in a pond. But on the other hand, "ground zero" is a rupture of language. For all the horror of this bombing, it was precise. It did not kill tens of thousands like an atomic warhead would. It did not indiscriminately wipe out most of the city. And finally, speaking as a New Yorker and as one familiar with those buildings, the terrorists are not going to take away my sense of the place. Those were my buildings. I walked through and shopped in the World Trade Center, not ground zero. The buildings may have been destroyed, but not my ability to name and claim them. They may be in wreckage, but to me that wreckage is still the WTC.

Anyhow, the feeding and other human services to the rescue and recovery workers are now being run out of St. Paul's Chapel. The interior of the chapel itself is kept relatively silent, for prayer, and rest breaks, and catnaps. But outside there is quite a bustle.

In addition to the folks from Union and Riverside Church, I went with ten students from NYU campus ministry. Many of us wound up working together in odd circumstances. Just across from the southeast corner of the WTC (Tower 2 and 5 WTC), there was a Subs Miami sandwich shop. It is now pretty much wrecked, the front of the building torn off, and the dining area open to the air, but partly covered with tarps. The walls have bright-painted tropical murals, there's a huge crane right outside, mood music is the sound of diesel generators and compressors and welding rigs. On the wall where I was working were red white and blue construction paper notes from schoolchildren, wishes and thank yous and love notes, probably 400 or so notes tied together into an 8 foot by 5 foot U.S. flag.

David Bouley, chef and owner of several of NY's toniest and best restaurants, is running a 4-star soup kitchen in what looks like a war zone. They drive food down from the restaurants and serve it to firefighters, cops, ironworkers, and others involved in the rescue/recovery/demolition operation. Salmon, steak, chicken, lots of veggies. Good food, a unique atmosphere, and the best clientele in town.

I mostly worked the hydration station, hauling water and soda and juice and sports drinks and ice, keeping coolers filled, and talking to folks as they came through. It was probably about 90 degrees inside - hot food and a steady stream of customers. I have not had such a good sweat in any sauna I can remember. When I left at 2:30am I was so tired I actually fell asleep on the subway. Today my back and legs ache. And I feel great.

I could not believe how many people came through this place. While there may not be any real hope of pulling anyone out, there were urban search and rescue teams from all over the U.S., so there is no sense of giving up, even if it doesn't make much sense. In case you haven't realized yet, being human is not about making sense. At our best, we value human life beyond calculation. So some of us will risk our lives even on the slim chance of saving another life. Please pray for the safety of these workers.

Search and rescue: Ann Wichmann and Merlyn.

And while we're at it, give thanks for Alison, and others like her, who volunteer by offering free massages for the workers. There's a similar operation for the family and staff up at the Family Assistance Center on Pier 94. Uptown, they have massage tables and a private room. At the WTC, Alison went around to folks at the tables, as they rested for a few minutes after their meal.

The first night I saw this, I thought, what a good idea. There are all kinds of ways to treat stress, and there's been too much of that going around. I had been talking with a police officer who was working near the massage room. I heard several of his colleagues urging him to get a backrub, and he said no way, even though I could see he was carrying a lot of tension in his shoulders and neck. Talking with him, I remember a line from Second Corinthians (4:10), familiar to me because it was one of the passages I read in the NYU chapel the afternoon of the bombing, "always carrying in the body the death of Jesus."

There has been a lot of death around here, it's not surprising that we carry it in our bodies.

But the full passage reads: "...always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies."

I'm not pretending to exegete the passage in context here. But what would life be life, what would our personal and political bodies be like, if the life of Jesus were visible in our bodies?

Chances are we'd see some people offering massages to strangers, others flying in from San Diego to sniff and dig around in the rubble to see if there just might be any life there, a thousand teddy bears from Oklahoma, bottled water with red-white-and-blue letters from schoolchildren, and plans to bomb Afghanistan with food, medical supplies, and books.

Good night, and peace.

Paul Bellan-Boyer

Saturday, September 17, 2016

15 year remembrance - 9/19/01 Holy Wednesday

There is only one more posting from 15 years ago. After I began serving as a chaplain, I was too busy, didn't have the energy for the writing, and much of what occurred could not easily be shared for privacy reasons. "Holy Wednesday" refers to the day of my first shift with the Red Cross, and finally being able to get to that work to which I was called.

Date: Thu Sep 20, 2001 3:51 am
Reply To:
Subject: Holy Wednesday

It is amazing how people have turned up from all over to help. "I heard a voice saying 'go to NY'..." "I asked God for a sign. And then my daughter said, 'Mom, you're going to NY, aren't you?'" And they came. In some cases obstacles magically fell away. In others, it took good hard work and unaccountable luck. But over and over again people have found themselves in the place God would have them be.

You maybe expect it from NY, NJ, CT. But Ohio and California and God knows where else...

Even the Lutheran churches have heard someone calling. I was at worship today with pastors and others from throughout the immediate area, both Missouri Synod and ELCA, led jointly by leaders of both denominations.

New York has become a city of shrines. There are the poster projects in the Village. A Mexican restaurant on Broadway at 103rd St. did a memorial service last week, and the candles are still burning. The flame of love burns bright, not out. Every firehouse has candles, cards, flowers.

Maybe you've heard. (Hope I've got the details right, this is second hand.) Two weeks ago, a New York foundry was finishing a bronze statue, of a firefighter with his head in his hands, commissioned as a memorial for somewhere in Missouri. The statue has now been donated to NYC, and sits on a flatbed truck in Times Square, surrounded by more flowers, candles, and good wishes.

And always the walls which display the faces of the missing. The bigger ones, at Bellevue, St. Vincent's, the Armory stretch for... longer than you can imagine, longer than is bearable. I want to touch the photos, and bring my fingers to my lips. I feel I should remove my shoes, for this is holy ground.

I saw a young man today, sitting on the ground in front of his friend's picture. After a few minutes he took up a marker and wrote a short tribute, remembrance. Then he put his hand to the picture, and cried.

How my heart breaks with pride that I am a human being.

There seems to have been a mood shift today, and the missing are becoming the hallowed dead.

One of my professors reminded us yesterday that prayer is beyond time and space. We can pray for those in the Trade Center, trying to call, maybe unable to reach their loved ones. For the people in the planes, hoping that obedience would help them survive, then seeing their plane headed for a building. For those running in panic. "For all those in their moment of need..."

And a personal prayer of thanks to Joseph, Mickey, Anthony, Steve, Ellen, Jacob, and so many others who ministered directly to me this day.*

So few were the acts of terror which loom so large. And against this, nothing but uncountable acts of loving kindness. I know which way this battle must eventually go. "We are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:37-39).

Paul Bellan-Boyer

From left to right: Posters at the Armory, the initial location for family-related services; Missing person poster; Ray's Pizza on 6th Ave.

* I went from the worship service to my first scheduled shift as a chaplain, reporting to the Family Assistance Center on Pier 94. These folks in one way or another helped me to prepare for that moment.

15 year remembrance - 9/18/01

Date: Wed Sep 19, 2001 1:06 am
Reply To:
Subject: One week after

Tuesday 9/18

There isn't much to say today. The grief work begins in full swing. The Red Cross is running training for bereavement counselors 12 hours a day.

God's peace be with you.


Fleshing this out September, 2016...

On Tuesday 9/18 I was screened and trained to be a disaster chaplain. The "screening" and the training happened together and took not more than an hour in a group of 15 or so. I suppose you could have been screened out by answering a question dramatically wrongly, or seeming to be way out of kilter, but I don't think many got bounced at this stage.

There were a few things which stood out. I remember feeling pretty good that I was not unprepared for this. We got asked about some of the things that we expected would be part of our work, and I think I mentioned the complicated nature of loss in this very sudden and public way, maintaining a living connection to the dead, and paying attention to the here and now of people's emotions - including our own.

And there was something that underlined what would be happening. Most of the disasters in life are personal, on a smaller scale. The funeral home places a few strategic boxes of tissues, which are used one or two or a small handful at a time.

Stacked up against the wall was case after carton after case, each with its own few dozen boxes of tissues. When grief comes by the thousands and tens of thousands and hundreds of thousand, how many boxes do you need?

Those first tissues were donations from all over. A little later the standard issue version showed up.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

15 year remembrance - 9/17/01

The pictures are not original to the email.

Date: Tue Sep 18, 2001 1:53 am
Reply To:
Subject: Putting things back together

Yesterday and today the fatigue has begun to hit. Class, Bible study, and bereavement counseling tomorrow (Tues).

As you undoubtedly heard, the stock market opened today, and went down. Seems like we truly are getting back to "normal."

This evening commercial airliners have been flying overhead on their approach to LaGuardia. I know this is as expected, and a week ago it was no big deal. I know they're flying to LaGuardia. But the noise often impinges suddenly, and I start.*

If you've subscribed to the WTC-Prayer list, you will have seen this news, but I was glad to reach a friend last night. Rev. Win Peacock is the Director of the John Heuss House, a homeless drop-in shelter in the Financial District. Their phones have been out, but I finally got him at home. Not only are all their staff and residents physically safe - they didn't close, didn't move. They provided emergency shelter to businesspeople fleeing the dust cloud, and had 50 homeless people from Tuesday to now. By coincidence(!), they had done repainting this summer and had a supply of masks on hand. They're worried, though, about some of their outreach clients who lived at the WTC, and about friends in the Project Renewal homeless outreach office which has been destroyed.

Lisa and I were also happy and amazed to hear about St. Paul's chapel, right next to the Trade Center on the northeast. It is exceptionally lovely, the oldest public building in continual use in NYC. George Washington worshipped there immediately after taking the oath of office as the first President of the U.S. One of the chapel's charms is the windows, small clear panes, many original, handmade, and now turned shades of purple due to many years of UV exposure. The churchyard is filled with rubble. The old trees have been toppled. But they protected the chapel.** Not one window was broken.

View of St. Paul's churchyard with WTC debris and Chapel in background.

Throughout the coming weeks, as we move through the city, we will connect with people, see familiar faces. Some we recognize as part of our urban landscape, a fellow commuter we see every so often, somebody we worked with two jobs ago. Each time we see someone for the first time since September 11th, there will be a little jump in our hearts, and a (probably unspoken) "thank God." These days when someone says, "good to see you," it's not a formality.

Peace be with you.


* I don't hear much about this in the national memory, but starting Tuesday morning 9/11/01, virtually all commercial air travel stopped for several days. One of the more jarring things from that day were the fighter jets which came over NYC, heard but less often seen. It was hard not to jump, or cringe, or come alert with those noises overhead - normally background noise, that week something very up front.

** Only one tree actually fell, the tall London Plane Sycamore in the northwest corner of the churchyard.