September 11, Ground Zero and the Healing Magic of Love

On September 11, 2001 we lived on the Connecticut shoreline about ninety minutes east of New York City.  In that area of bedroom commuter communities, everyone seemed to know someone who lost a loved one.  A friend of mine lost her niece.  Another had to explain to her four-year-old daughter why her classmate was no longer in preschool…  On the 22nd I stood two blocks from the debris piled four stories high.  I’m from upstate NY. I had to go. With such deep wounds and the strong will to help, two months later a small group of us found ourselves cleaning out apartments through our denomination’s disaster relief clean-up program.  We were right across the street to the south of the towers.  (It had been the “red zone” just a couple days earlier.) You could look out the window directly into the pit.  The apartment windows all around that area had been blown out and the apartments filled with many inches – sometimes feet – of that dusty brown refuse containing, well…  It was traumatic for many just to be there, but it was healing also.  When local residents shared their experience, it was an honor similar to when a war veteran opens up.  Every day we had lunch at Respite Care at the Marriott Hotel.  Volunteer chaplains, psychologists, social workers, cooks and our nation’s finest civil servants ate, rested and slept there.  There was a very profound sense of kindness and a gentle but strong determination that we were all going to get through this together.  I returned two weeks later to offer distraction in the form of strolling magic in the dining room.  (I learned that many entertainers offered their gentle services there.)  In between routines, I listened and offered care.  Two men were weighed down with anguish as they ate.  Their job?  Collecting human remains with as much respect, dignity and care as possible.  At first it seemed trite to say, “Pick a card.”  But then the hope of being lost and found gained new meaning.  They appreciated the chance to smile and laugh in the face of devastation.  With some of us gathered around we learned together the powerful image of destroying (paper) and not exactly restoring as it once was… That symbol wouldn’t work because none of our lives would ever be the same again.  Rather the torn napkin (an impromptu symbol our lives, nation and world) – blessed by a sacred spirit of healing love – was transformed into a shower of gentle streamers over our heads – an affirmation of Love’s blessing and deliverance.  I still do a form of this routine at the end of my show.  Back in our home town, I was asked to pray at a civil ceremony on the second anniversary of September 11.  If you choose, you can read it by clicking here.  If you do not believe in God, it may still be cathartic to subsitute the word “Love” for the word “God.”  All this reminds me that we move on, transformed, full of life and blessed to be here.  What an honor it is to give and receive love from one another.  That is what makes us strong, resilient, courageous and beautifully transformed.

Shalom, Salaam, Peace,

The Rev. David Reed-Brown