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

15 year remembrance - 9/15/01 Part 2

Picture of a wedding from

Date: Sat Sep 15, 2001 8:58 pm
Reply To:
Subject: Saturday in New York

I've just sent out the daily notice to the school about where and how help is needed. In the quad outside my window, there are chairs and tables and a canopy for a Jewish wedding which will take place at sundown. The guests have gathered, and the band is playing Amazing Grace. God bless New York.

It has been a beautiful day, the sun bright and warm, the air crisp. A group of students just left to go downtown. There are reports that air quality there is not very good and that asbestos is a potential problem. But people are still working in the wreckage, still searching for loved ones, still homeless. We have a sense that ministry is a dangerous business.

Quite a bureaucracy has grown up trying to organize help effectively. Many are complaining at how long it takes to reach a human being on the phone; at being told to go here, then there. At hearing they need cooks, trained counselors, etc., and then not being able to find out where and when they're needed. 'Cause you can't get to where the help is needed unless you're authorized.

One of my professors, Pastor Barbara Lundblad, was down at the Armory today talking with those who are still missing family members. The Clinton family, New Yorkers now, was there. A fellow student saw Pres. Clinton give a moving impromptu address last night at the Javits Center. Secondhand paraphrase: "Those who brought down the WTC hate what we have here. Look around. Look at this crowd, look at this city. You see every kind of person here, every kind of cuisine. They can't stand the fact that we're able to live together with all our differences." God bless America.

A number of people outside NYC have asked what they can do right now. I am going to send another note about prayer support. Otherwise, I think the single best thing at the moment is money. That's a gift that will be needed in the short and the long term. That's a gift that can be easily deployed where and when it's needed. I recommend the American Red Cross (800-HELPNOW, due to volume is the recommended address), or your church's disaster relief fund. (This is one thing the Lutherans actually do well, 800-638-3522,

I would like to say a little bit about the $40B and the recent actions by the U.S. Congress.

Make no mistake about it, we have suffered a national, even a worldwide trauma. One of the feautures of trauma is that people wish to do something to regain a sense of control over their lives. You probably know the deep desire to DO SOMETHING. We've seen that deep desire over and over again since Tuesday. I have heard the following action plans:

-- Rebuild the Towers
-- Institute a draft
-- Bomb Afghanistan back to the Stone Age (thanks to two decades of war and the Taliban it's very nearly there)
-- Appropriate $40B even if we're not yet sure what to do with it

It seems to me that these are all, at this point, hasty and ill-considered responses to our deep pain. NYC and Washington and our airline security all will need help and money. Combating future terrorism demands action. But it's too early to take action on any of the other plans. Let us first mourn our dead, and then consider what response will truly be in our best interest. More terror will not be a fitting monument.

Please contact your representatives in Washington and raise your voice for a more measured and careful response than the current rhetoric indicates.

President Bush (202-456-6213;
Secretary of State Colin Powell (202-647-4000;
Senators and Representatives (contact info:

Paul Bellan-Boyer

Bill Clinton expressing similar sentiments on the streets of New York, 9/13/01.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

15 year remembrance - 9/15/01 Part 1

Date: Sat Sep 15, 2001 8:04 pm
Reply To:
Subject: Friday in New York

Apologies, I know this is not directly on topic for the list.

There's been talk of the city "returning to normal." I'm not sure I know quite what "normal" is for New York. But we are definitely not returning to normal. Too much has gone down, literally and figuratively.

But there is a definite sense of people seeking more and more to return to the usual, the ordinary. This is a partly a response to the terrorism. Partly a need for the comfort of the familiar, which we can cling to in the face of tremendous upset. And partly the simple need to get on with life. We still need to walk the dog and get groceries and do the laundry.

One fellow student told how she was on the subway, and for the first time since Tuesday, it was crowded, and there was a little jostling and attitude. She was just married this summer, and her husband was on the streets near the Trade Center on Tuesday. She thought, "What a luxury it is to be impatient, to be able to rush home to your loved one."

Tonight, after I led a worship service at noon, and class from 2-6, Lisa and I went to a candlelight gathering at the Firefighter's Memorial, which happens to be nearby. Afterwards we walked over to Broadway, looking to grab dinner.

Two blocks later we spied the Afghan Kebab House. Its name caught my eye, and I noticed they were open, but the dining room was empty. Other restaurants were packed. An American flag hung in the window, and smaller flags decorated the dining room.

We had a lovely dinner and, as you might guess, excellent service. We also had a conversation with the proprietor. In true New York fashion, it's run by Pakistanis, New Yorkers since the early 80s, and the kitchen is staffed by Mexican & Central Americans.

Due to the restaurant's name, they are currently doing almost no dining room business. His brother's restaurant in midtown is doing almost no business at all, and has been getting hate calls as well. But they decided that they must stay open. Not only to try and earn a living, but to close would seem as if they'd done something wrong. "We love this country, our life is here." It might not need saying, but it had better be said anyway, that he was just as upset at the recent terrorist attacks as any other New Yorker. "My mother was crying all day," he told us.

We talked about some of his experiences of the past days, which involved the same kind of heartsickness and confusion seen all over this city and nation. Yesterday, he got home late, 1am, and his wife had no milk in the house. "OK, I'll go to Waldbaum's" (supermarket), he said. On the way, he saw a band of 20-30 boys, high school age and up, carrying American flags and cheering, chanting, "patriotic" sentiments. He detoured so he wouldn't have to cross their path. "Why take a chance? Why tempt them?" he asked. It's the same reason he has an "OPEN" sign in the door, but hasn't turned the lights on for his "AFGHAN KEBAB HOUSE" sign. I wonder how long will he feel he must stay in the shadows?

A little historical note: In 1916, the U.S. had a thriving German ethnic culture. In many neighborhoods German was an American tongue. In 1917, after the U.S. entry into WWI, German shops were destroyed, despite the American flags they hung in their windows. German-Americans were beaten and killed in mob violence. Sauerkraut became "Liberty Cabbage," the German language a mark of shame. By the end of the war, German-American culture effectively disappeared from the American mainstream. (Yet as a pseudo-underground, the German-American Bund became a fertile breeding ground for the support of fascism.)

"Those who don't learn from history are condemned to repeat it." I pray that our generation will at least make different mistakes.

Please consider patronizing "Arab" and Muslim businesses. You'll be supporting your neighbors in a difficult time - and you'll get great service.

Paul Bellan-Boyer

The restaurant was actually Afghan Kebab House #5, located at 2680 Broadway at 102nd St, no longer at this location. One of the flagrant details was a sign which featured the map and flag colors of Afghanistan.

Middle: Dachshunds were temporarily re-branded as "Liberty dogs" while being used as anti-German image (and interestingly, contrasted to the virtuous American pitbull). Right: German-American farmer whipped and covered with tar and feathers near Luverne, Minnesota, August, 1918.

15 year remembrance - 9/13/01

The pictures are not of course, original to the email.

Date: Fri Sep 14, 2001 2:51 am
Reply To:
Subject: Looking for power

Thanks to all of you who have been in touch over the past few days. It is a blessing and a comfort to know we are not alone. I hope all of you have been able to contact family and other loved ones.

"My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Not the way we're normally inclined to think. Power is something we love to have. We want power -- sometimes power over another. But we also need the power that gets things done, the power we need to survive in the world. We want to be strong. In our hearts, we'd like to be invulnerable.

But we're not. Dear God, we're not.

"Power is made perfect in weakness."

This is a hard one to understand. But when I look around this city these past three days, I begin to understand.

This is a city that has been brought low, but is standing tall.

We've seen it over and over again. The man, named Louie, who carried a woman on crutches down and out of the Trade Center. The brave men and women who rushed towards the disaster to help. Who are still coming, from all over this land. Thank you. Thank you. The calm, quiet, shocked and determined response of people to marshall aid. To continue living. To help each other deal with this. All over the city, those who were prepared and those who spontaneously rose up. Our proud towers have fallen. But we are still standing. Oh, what a beautiful city. And there are those who continue to search for loved ones. The photocopied flyers and flowers all over the city. You've seen them walking from hospital to morgue to police station to news van, hoping, praying, refusing to let hope die. What courage, what strength it takes to do that. What love. This is power, made perfect in weakness. I got home tonight and sought my daily fix of the news. I have heard a lot of voices calling for strong action, meaning military action.

By and large, I have not heard people in New York City calling for war, for blood, for revenge. No doubt we are still in shock. But we are also angry, and will probably get even more so. There's a saying that came up quite often in our semester-opening worship last week. "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention."

Trust me -- we've been paying attention, and we are outraged.

But there is very little sentiment here for the easy use of "war" language.

In Union Square and Washington Square there is a poster project, people set out blank paper and crayons and chalk, and people come by to see, to read, to express what's on the heart of the people in this city.

There was one poster which read "Nuke the hell out of them." But it was surrounded by fifty others, focused on care for those hurt, gratitude for the rescue workers, outpourings of sympathy. And wishes for responses which do not multiply the terror of these days.

Someone drew a poster of the Twin Towers, bursting into flame when the second plane hit. And then they wrote on the poster "This image will never cause me to hurt someone else."

Why have I heard none of these voices on TV?

CBS showed a news photographer who narrowly escaped death. He said "There better be a hole in the ground somewhere... 'cause if Bush doesn't do something..."

It's a very understandable sentiment. And I don't presume to question the anger and outrage. We are paying attention - and we are outraged! But why does "doing something" seem to automatically mean making another gaping hole in the ground?

In the gospel of John, on the night before his murder, Jesus spoke to his disciples.

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid." John 14:27

He says that peace is Jesus' gift to us. Whatever the peace of God is, it's given in a way that is different from the way the world gives. On Tuesday we saw the way the world gives. God gives us -- and God asks of us – something better.

I pray that, as indivduals and as a nation, we may recognize that not only does vengeance belong to God, but that it is not in our interest. May we abandon all talk of "surgical strikes" and "collateral damage," because we know they inflict the very terror we condemn.

May God have mercy on us. May God inspire us to think creatively, to work patiently and persistently. Please raise up voices which point us to a better way.

In our weakness, O God, may we find your power.

Monday, September 12, 2016

15 year remembrance - 9/12/01

I returned home later Tuesday night, 10? 11pm? I don't remember what the rest of the night was like, I'm sure I was up late, and sometime before I got out the next morning, I read an email from a pastor I did not know condemning Islam. (The pictures are not of course, original to the email.)

Survivors walking up Broadway outside St. Paul's Chapel following WTC collapse. Attribution unknown.

Date: Wed Sep 12, 2001 10:03 am
Reply To:
Subject: Re: [ELCA-L] Terrorism

Dear brothers and sisters,

> Make no mistake about it,
> Islam is a religion of hatred
> and violence. Islam is the
> enemy.

Terror seemingly knows no bounds. Thoughts like this give me terror, and cause me to fear for our nation's soul. It seems all too much like the thinking that led to yesterday's brutality. We do not ourselves have innocent hands, for we too easily hate. And the hate always seems to find an Other. But the same kind of statements could be made and defended about the tradition we have inherited, and about our scriptures. Pastor [name redacted], please take another look, and take this to our Lord Jesus.

At New York University we share a building with the Catholic Center and the Islamic Center. Yesterday we received phone calls which indicated the need to find someone to blame. Our offices are closed due to security concerns about misguided "warriors" seeking revenge.

Thank God for Hassan, our Muslim security guard, one of our most faithful helpers, who chose to break the rules and allow us to open the chapel and keep the doors open well into the night.

People came by in ones and twos, in small groups. Mostly they wanted to sit for a minute, to pray, to reach out to God, to be some place that could begin to hold the enormity of yesterday's events.

So there was a lot of silent prayer. Some quiet tears, and some deep sobs. Every few minutes we would read some scripture out loud.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. (Psalm 23)

I lift up my eyes to the hills -- from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 121)

As Jesus came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, "If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!" (Luke 19:41-44)

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed... (2 Corinthians 4:7-18)

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 8:18-39)

And we would occasionally give voice to a prayer. For our fears. For a world where this kind of thing can happen. For the many, many people affected. Those hurt and killed. Those who are missing loved ones, hearts breaking with worry. Children whose parents will not be coming home. Emergency workers striving to pull life from this disaster.

It can be a heart-rending blessing to be in ministry. I heard the story of a young woman, married one month. Her husband worked in the World Trade Center, and she had been talking to her husband on the phone when the plane hit. She hadn't heard from him since then. Please pray for this couple, and the many others separated by brutality.

I talked with a young man who was working next to the Trade Center when the planes hit. He felt the heat through the window glass. One of his buddies was outside, as people were jumping to their deaths to escape the fire in the tower, landing all around him. After locating most of the folks from their office, this young man made his way uptown, and looked for a church that was open. "I needed to break down and cry." Please pray for him, and for the many like him.

On the way home, I met a firefighter in the Columbus Circle subway station. He looked shellshocked. I touched him on the shoulder and said "God bless you. A lot of people have been praying for you today." We talked for a bit. He said one of the hardest things was that there was so little he could do. Too much rubble, too much devastation, too few people accessible for rescue. He went downtown with a group from his stationhouse, but was returning alone. 265 firefighters missing. Please pray for Ralph, and the many like him.

There are hundreds of thousands more stories. Please pray for this city, this nation, this world. Over the coming days we will trace the chains of cruelty, hate, and indifference which brought this about. May we also trace the threads of love that will lead us out of this horror. The overwhelming number of people who turned out to give blood. The sacrificial love which led so many to risk -- and lose -- their lives to help others.

God be with you, and with our nation, that we are not possessed by a spirit of vengeance. Loving our enemy is much harder than that. May we take the narrow and difficult road, the much harder work of mourning, of repentance, and even, by the grace of God, forgiveness.

In the name of Jesus, our rock and our redeemer,

Paul Bellan-Boyer

Firefighters Todd Heaney and Frankie DiLeo, of Engine 209, carry injured firefighter from the rubble of the World Trade Center. (Photo by Todd Maisel/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images, seen at

Sunday, September 11, 2016

15 year remembrance - 9/11/01

Over the next few days I will be posting some of my writings immediately following 9/11/01, posted to a Lutheran discussion group. They are corrected for spelling and with a few other indicated edits. The originals are still online at the referenced links.

Date: Tue Sep 11, 2001 1:56 pm
Reply To:
Subject: A word from NYC

To those on the list who know us and may be wondering, both Lisa and I are safe and OK. But many of my former colleagues, friends, and acquaintances who work and live in the WTC area have undoubtedly been affected. Please pray for those at risk, and for the courage and strength of those who labor to help.

"We walk by faith and not by sight," for the sights today are horrific. In the days to come, as we trace the chains of cruelty and indifference which led to this horror, let us also be attentive to the evidence of love. Those who have put themselves at risk to rescue and care for the injured. And those who will engage in the hard ministries of repentance and forgiveness.

Please pray for our nation, that we not respond with a spirit of vengeance.

I am going out now to give blood and will then try to make my way to NYU for campus ministry.

God's grace is our lifeline, and God's peace our hope.

Paul Bellan-Boyer

Milton Heiberg, "WTC with Gulls,", used by permission. Thank you, Mr. Heiberg!

Todd Stone, "Lifting," on display at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. Todd Stone took a picture of pigeons lifting into the sky seconds after AA Flight 11 flew into the North Tower, and continued to photograph from his rooftop near the WTC. "Within a few days, unable to rid his mind and spirit of the horrific images he had witnessed, Stone began a new series of paintings. He rubbed World Trade Center Ash into his watercolor paper, turning it from brilliant white to dull gray." This is one of 16 paintings in his series, Witness.

9/11 Remembering the people

For me the anniversary day is a good time to hallow the memory of those who perished that day, and to remember those many ripples which spread from the attack: those injured, the families and communities of victims, the many thousands of responders.

One of the things that came through the most in my experience, was the ordinary goodness of most of the people caught up in this disaster. There are so many...

This picture is of a display at the Tribute Center, run by the September 11th Families Association, the principal interpretive center prior to the opening of the National 911 Memorial and Museum.

Far too many. I find it helpful to focus. Today, I remember...

Abdu Malahi, 37, New York, NY


Growing up, Abdu A. Malahi struggled to combine the traditions and culture of his native Yemen with the swagger of a kid raised in Brooklyn, one who loved Prince and played the keyboard in a makeshift band. He dreamed of becoming a recording engineer, said his childhood friend and bandmate Edward Perez, and it seemed that Mr. Malahi was finally able to reconcile those roles in his job as an audio-visual engineer at the Marriott Hotel.

His dedication was evident: if a conference or a meeting was not successful, Mr. Malahi "would take it to his heart," said his friend and manager, Vipan Khullar. On Sept. 11, Mr. Malahi ignored warnings to flee the building and stayed to help evacuate the hotel guests.

Mr. Malahi, 37, was a serious person, his father, Ali, said. His playful side came out only when he was with close friends or his wife, whom he met when he spent some time in Yemen a few years ago, and his two sons. His wife and sons still live there; Mr. Malahi was trying to get visas for them to come to the United States.

But his formality did not necessarily push people away. Sometimes it drew them closer. "He was so formal in his letter writing; he would always start with `Greetings,' " Mr. Khullar said. "Even if it was just a note to accept a meeting, he would say, `Greetings, yes, I will meet you at that time.' That's something that always impressed me about him."

Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on February 10, 2002.


The Falkenberg Family, University Park, MD
Charles Falkenberg, 45
Leslie Whittington, 45
Zoe Falkenberg, 8
Dana Falkenberg, 3

Charles and Leslie boarded American Airlines Flight 77 with their two daughters, Zoe and Dana, en route to Canberra, Australia, for what family members said was a dream, working vacation. Leslie, who was an Associate Professor of Public Policy and an Associate Dean at Georgetown University, was going for a short stint as a visiting fellow at Australian National University at Canberra. Charles was a gifted software engineer and scientist. An expert in developing software for scientific data management, he had helped measure the long-term impact of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, managed NASA-related databases and served as director of research for ECOlogic of Lanham, Maryland. Both were active in the PTA.

They were traveling down under for a once-in-a-lifetime trip. They had just moved out of their home, in fact they spent their last few days before 9/11 in a hotel, and upon their return to the states, were to move into a new house in Chevy Chase.

Known for her determination, intelligence and ambition, Zoe was a top student at University Park Elementary School. She was active in Girl Scouts, ballet and swim team. She appeared in the school’s production of “Brigadoon” and a local production of “The King and I.” She was greatly loved by her friends, teammates, teachers and her friends’ parents. Dana was a robust, curly-haired girl, who was seen as a miracle by her parents. She was intense, funny and a charmer. She celebrated her third birthday on July 21, 2001 with her Falkenberg grandparents. They accompanied their mother to work often enough that her coworkers had fond memories of their visits, particularly of Zoe’s flamboyant outfits.


Debbie Paris, 48, New York, NY


Debbie Paris, an executive assistant, scheduled her bosses' flights, kept their calendars and managed payments, construction, staff and insurance on their three yachts and several homes — to list some of her duties. "When I needed an autographed photo of Sting," said Suzanne Murphy, a colleague, "I called Debbie. `No problem,' she said."

When Herman Sandler, president of Sandler O'Neill, bought his yacht, he turned everything over to Mrs. Paris, saying, "Let me know when the money runs out." She did the rest, from hiring a captain to paying the marina. No Problem was his name for the boat — fitting, no doubt, from his point of view, but only because of Mrs. Paris. Mr. Sandler, too, died on Sept. 11.

At home, she managed the gigs for Jimmy, her husband, a rock musician, and was helping him with an album. "She was his muse and inspiration," Ms. Murphy said. Mr. Paris put it more strongly: "She was like my wife, my child, my mother, my best friend," he said. "And I was a husband and father and child and brother to her." Even now he will not reveal her age. "Just say," he said, "she looked 15 years younger than she was."


Jayesh Shah, 38, Edgewater, NJ


Jayesh Shah and his brother were always close, whether the family lived in India or Wisconsin or Tulsa or Houston.

They went to the same college. They took computer science classes together in graduate school. "I was a terrible note-taker, and Jayesh was a great note- taker," said Niloy Shah, his brother, younger by a year. And when Jay Shah got married, the newlyweds lived with the younger brother and his wife for months.

Even after Jayesh Shah moved to New York last year, to work at eSpeed International, a division of Cantor Fitzgerald, the brothers talked almost every day.

Mr. Shah, a strong believer in education, wanted to be sure the move would not disrupt his children's schooling, so Mrs. Shah and the children remained in Houston until school was out. Each child has a favorite memory of time with their father. Nikita, 10, loved horseback riding in Yosemite. Sonia, 8, loved the "Sling Shot" ride at Seaside Heights. Kevin, 6, loved wrestling with his dad.

They and their mother — and Mr. Shah's mother, who is staying with them — will return to Houston. But education remains a family value, and they will not leave for Texas until June.

Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on December 23, 2001.


And one of the many heroes of 9/11.

From the NYC Office of the Chief Medical Examiner...

Dr. Charles Hirsch, the long-serving Chief Medical Examiner of New York City and a towering figure in the field of forensic pathology, passed away on Friday, April 8, 2016, at the age of 79.

“Dr. Hirsch presided over the transformation of the Office of Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) into a national leader in forensic pathology, and led the agency through the unprecedented task of identifying victims of the World Trade Center disaster.

“On 9/11, Dr. Hirsch raced to the World Trade Center with several OCME staff members, and was present when the North Tower collapsed. He was injured, and would only learn later that he had broken every rib, but he promptly returned to the office that same day, covered in soot. In the following days, weeks, and months, Dr. Hirsch led OCME through the process of investigating and identifying the victims of the largest homicide in U.S. history. The work to identify the 2,753 victims of the disaster continues to this day, just as he pledged to 9/11 families.”

I had the privilege of working as a Chaplain for OCME in the years following the closing of the World Trade Center site. Early in the process, Dr. Hirsch realized the need for spiritual care for his staff and the 9/11 families they worked with. He is universally and rightly praised for his skill in forensic pathology, as an effective leader, and for his kind and gentle presence even in the most difficult circumstances. He radiated calm and encouraged confidence. Dr. Hirsch was one of the many right people in the right place on September 11th, and I am grateful to have known him.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

We walk by faith

It was almost exactly 15 years ago that a particular line of scripture came to my attention.

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.... For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden... So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord — for we walk by faith, not by sight. 2 Corinthians 5:1-7 (abridged)

The morning began with an unusual noise of a low-flying jet overhead, as I tried for a little more sleep before getting out of bed. A short while later, a fellow student told me about a plane crash. I sat uncomfortably with others for 10 or 15 minutes until our 10:00 class on "Aggression" was canceled and it was announced that we would gather at noon chapel. Two things stand out at that service. John McGuckin standing to the side, in black cassock, with his prayerbook and rosary, softly and silently praying throughout the service. And several readings, including this one.

A short while later, unable to give blood at Columbia Presbyterian, I made my way downtown, the start of what would be a...difficult...nine month journey, of fear, of sorrow, and anger, and despair. Of reckless hope, into the experience of radical welcome, and knowing great blessings.

The World Trade Center was part of my extended neighborhood. For most of my time on Wall Street I commuted through it - except when the PATH was closed from the 1993 bombing. I bought the suits for my first Big City job at the Alexander's in the southeast corner of the WTC concourse. We had office Christmas parties there, and my favorite homeless ministry held fundraisers there. Our bank branch was there, and I am still sentimentally hanging on to the last bit of shampoo from the WTC mall.

It was commonplace to hear that "9/11 changed everything." Fifteen years later, not so much. It didn't change the desire for retribution. It didn't change the ability of this nation to create more just and sustainable geopolitical relationships. And it hasn't changed the fact that terror is a daily fact of life throughout the world: military and civilian casualties in Afghanistan, attacks in Mumbai and Paris, drones in Yemen, bombings in Iraq and Syria and Turkey, refugees on the high seas and internment camps, daily violence on American streets, and the daily toll of poverty and oligarchies.

We walk by faith, and not by sight.

You don't have to look for reasons to lose hope. They will always be close by.

But the reasons for hope are profound and prolific. Don't forget the glories of earth and sea and air. But pay more attention to the ways that care is woven into the fabric of the universe, and how kindness is the norm in human relationships. Do not doubt that we are building, too slowly, a more loving and peaceful world. Hitler's Reich is gone. Ghandi's cause is still growing.

And even if you can't see it, hope is not optional. Giving up is unacceptable, not because you'll go to hell, but because you'll stay there. And everyone absent from the struggle makes the path more difficult. Together, the hope becomes real. Keep the faith.


WTC 2 (South Tower) Lobby and mezzanine. Flags of the world represented the vision of international commerce and peace.

Image of hope: All hands in

The heavens are telling the glory of God

The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims God's handiwork. Psalm 19:1

Despite our desires to reach to the heavens, most of the time we completely fail to notice the awesome handiwork of creation. Even when our towers are falling, the heavens still proclaim the glory of God. Glory surrounds us, glory supports us, and glory calls us.

We do not need the devastation of violence. But some of our constructions deserve to fall. Towers built by exploitation, by casual acceptance of injustice, by our willing ignorance of others in need... the sooner they come down, the sooner we can begin building the kind of life and the kind of world that is truly glorious.