Today is 9-11. Images are seared into our memories. And remembering the questions: “Where were you? What did you feel? Who did you call?”
Although I remember very vividly, I didn’t know exactly how to answer what I felt. Because there are times when we just don’t have the words.
“Answers, especially those sought in the wake of immeasurable grief are a funny thing. They can be inconclusive and unsatisfactory. Or they can be epiphanic, coming from the most unexpected of places or people,” Gabriella Ferrigine writes in today’s NYT, about her mother Michaela’s story, who had been scheduled to attend a meeting in one of the twin towers. That meeting was postponed. She lived, but many of her friends who worked in the tower died.
Here’s what I do know: telling stories is a non-negotiable part of healing and reconciliation.
My good friend The Rev. Dan Matthews (former Rector at Trinity Church Wall Street and St. Paul’s Chapel) told me the story about Mike and Jim, the parish property managers.
Opened in 1766, Manhattan’s oldest public building in continuous use, St. Paul’s Chapel not only survived the blast and fallout (astonishing in that it sits across the street from Ground Zero), it eventually become the rest station, where volunteers took shifts as cooks, masseurs, podiatrists, and counselors for first responders. Cots were provided for exhausted rescuers. Many slept on the wooden pews (still marked and scarred from boots and equipment to this day).
On the Friday after the attack, the nation was asked to observe a moment of silence. Mike and Jim asked Rev. Matthews if they could ring the bells at St. Paul’s just before the noon hour, as a call to remembrance. Although a noble gesture, it wouldn’t be possible given the debris in the vicinity, the fact that part of the chapel had been quarantined and the reality that the bells were disabled. Undeterred, they decided to go ahead with their plan, making their way to the top of the bell tower. On the way, amidst the debris they found an old steel pipe. When they reached the top, Mike told Rev. Matthews that he used that piece of steel “to beat the hell out of that bell.”
Looking out at the scene below, they could see that every worker at ground zero had removed their hard hat, and turned to face the bells. Mike said, “It hit me, that even when things get their worst, I know that there is still hope.”
William Sloane Coffin’s affirmation, “It is hope that helps us keep the faith, despite the evidence, knowing that only in doing so has the evidence any chance of changing.”
I like Michael Gungor’s frame, “Faith comes from listening to the right stories.”
And yes, sometimes, hope is not easy. Because the real world can be a harsh and uncaring place. Cynicism is no surprise. Recently, I heard this, “Anyone who pretends to care, or needs caring for, is only fooling themselves.”
And yet. In a world where so much can go wrong, we are tempted to forget (or do not see) the moments where so much can go right. Despite the debris, moments when we can find the courage to make our way to the bell tower, where Leonard Cohen reminds us to “Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering.”
What do we do when the unimaginable happens? When in our vulnerability, we feel completely “at the mercy of.” When those who should know, have no words. I still remember recordings of panicked 911 calls from the towers, “Can you please tell me what’s going on!” “I’m sorry, ma’am, we don’t know.”
We want to move on… even though we believe, sometimes, that our wounds will never heal.
But here’s our question: Can our vulnerability shape the very building blocks that make healing possible?
Yes… there’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. It is the great irony, and heartfelt beauty: Our strength and resilience does not come from a show of force or bravado, but in the freedom to be tough enough to be soft.
We are prophets—of steadfastness, justice, compassion and mercy—when we do not hide our woundedness.
When we find the wherewithal to stand in the middle of it all, even without words. And let the healing begin there, knowing that we are on this journey together.
In St. Paul’s, one reporter overheard a firefighter say, “When I come in that door, I’m covered with blood sometimes, and they hug me. They love me, they take care of me, they treat me as a real human being. And then they feed me, and they massage me, and they give me adjustments. These are my people. This is my place. This is where I come to be with God.”
Here’s the deal: “The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.” (Thank you, David W. Orr)
So, where do we go… from fractured or frightened or empty? Maybe, just maybe, we do what Mike and Jim chose to do. We ring the bells that still can ring, Forget your perfect offering, There is a crack, a crack in everything, That’s how the light gets in.
Speaking of stories that heal and inspire. On the morning of November 14, 1960, a little girl named Ruby Bridges got dressed and left for school. Ruby became the first Black child to desegregate the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. Remember the federal marshals that escorted her, as she faced mobs of angry white protestors restrained by barricades.
September 8th was Ruby’s 69th birthday. Happy Birthday, and thank you for the light you continue to spill as a peacemaker and healer.
Quote for our week…
“Don’t follow the path. Go where there is no path and begin the trail. When you start a new trail equipped with courage, strength and conviction, the only thing that can stop you is you!” Ruby Bridges
Today’s Photo Credit: “Good morning Terry. I start each and every day with your fresh perspective and beautiful stories. Thank you! This photo was taken yesterday at Yosemite National Park at Tunnel View lookout. My family reconnects once a year to climb mountains and replenish our spirit. It’s the greatest week of the year! With deep love and respect,” Tina Wagner… Thank you Tina… And thank you to all, I love your photos… please keep sending them… send to terryhershey.com
Yes, your gift makes a difference… Donation = Love…
Help make Sabbath Moment possible. I write SM because I want to live with a soft heart; to create a place for sanctuary, empathy, inclusion, compassion and kindness… a space where we are refueled to make a difference. SM remains free.
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Letters that do my heart good…
–Hi Terry, I have been receiving your daily emails for some time and really enjoy them. I also receive Richard Rohr’s devotions. Thank you for your encouragement. Love the photos. Love nature. Love God. Marianne
–Terry! I love the story of your grandmother’s swing and although my grandmother died when I was very young I do remember her and the love I still feel when I was near her. As always thanks you for what you do for us each day with Sabbath moment. Blessings, Mary Anne
–Hello, Terry. Thanks for reminding me about One Particular Harbor. I watched the YouTube live performance in Alabama. Buffett was a man alive. Thank God. Hope your garden has done well this summer. The cobbler sounds fabulous! If I can find it, I will send you a video of my sister-in-law’s black Labrador assaulting her blackberry patch, consuming as quickly as possible before he gets caught and removed! Poor dog lost his garden privileges. Blessings and peace, Steven
–Dear Terry, So many days I am overwhelmed by this world and then I find my way back to Sabbath Moments. Terry, thank you for all you give to all of us. You are a gift in my life from a loving God. Your friend. Gerry
–Terry, Thank you for your energy today. I was reminded of my purpose and my Why. And the importance of Grace when I don’t want to try. Until we meet again. Sharol
–Hi Terry, Thank you for your generous offer. Looking forward to your 2 most recent books. I am enjoying ‘This is The Life’. Today’s Sabbath Moment was was a true gift. Thanks for all that you share! Judy
POEMS AND PRAYERS
I, who live by words, am wordless when
I try my words in prayer. All language turns
To silence. Prayer will take my words and then
Reveal their emptiness. The stilled voice learns
To hold its peace, to listen with the heart
To silence that is joy, is adoration.
The self is shattered, all words torn apart
In this strange patterned time of contemplation
That, in time, breaks time, breaks words, breaks me,
And then, in silence, leaves me healed and mended.
I leave, returned to language, for I see
Through words, even when all words are ended.
I, who live by words, am wordless when
I turn me to the Word to pray. Amen.
The Ordering of Love
Great Spirit God,
we give you thanks for another day on this earth.
We give you thanks for this day
to enjoy the compassionate goodness of you, our Creator.
We acknowledge with one mind
our respect and gratefulness to all the sacred cycle of life.
Bind us together in the circle of compassion
to embrace all living creatures and one another.
Ojibwe Evening Prayer