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.

15 year remembrance - 9/15/01 Part 3

Date: Sat Sep 15, 2001 10:24 pm
Subject: WTC-related prayer requests
Reply To:

I'm sorry if this is a duplicate or annoying note for you. But the response in just a short time tells me this is needed and I had better set it up right.

I am a student at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, and work in campus ministry at New York University.

Even though many people have been working and struggling so hard to respond to the human tragedies of the September 11th attacks, it is so frustrating not to be able to do more. There is a great ache to do SOMETHING! I have heard this again and again. People ask "What can we send ? What can we DO?"

You probably know many of the material needs. I have been in contact with several groups of people in and outside of NYC who are unable to travel to the relief sites, and so are engaged in prayer.

In addition to all the many prayers being offered generally, they would like to pray for specific people and situations related to the WTC disaster.

Do you have a specific prayer request? Send as much detail (name, situational info) as you would like shared and prayed over, and I will forward it to these prayer groups. Please help these people minister - they are aching to help, and to share in communion with this city's suffering.

Send your prayer request to Please include a brief and meaningful subject line. You can attach a photo to your email. (Your message may be edited, and photos may not reach all recipients.)

Would you like to do this kind of prayer? Please send me email addresses (of a contact person, or a group of people) and I will send you a specific prayer list. I know with an absolute certainty that this will be a comfort for people to know that you are praying personally for them and their situations.

To receive prayer requests - you will not be flooded with messages - send an email to

May God bless you and sustain you. May God be at work in our world for the end of terror, even in response to terror. May we work for, and may God grant us peace.

Paul Bellan-Boyer

Dennis Diaz, a member of Local 100 of the SEIU, looks over the Wall of Prayers September 13, 2001 at the entrance to Bellevue Hospital in New York City for 80 members of the union who are missing after Tuesday's deadly terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. All of the workers were employed at the Windows of the World Restaurant on the 106th floor of one of the towers. Jose Jimenez/Primera Hora/Getty Images, at