Date: Thu Sep 27, 2001 12:57 am
Reply To: ELCA-L@yahoogroups.com
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; http://www.barewalls.com/cgi-bin/clientdetails.exe?ItemID=19333&zoom=1). 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 (http://sunsite.dk/cgfa/chagall/p-chagal35.htm). 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.
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.