I had a meeting today in a section of town I’m not very familiar with. New York has been walloped with snow this winter, but today it was an anomaly: sunny and 60 degrees. I checked my directions and was surprised to see how close to the World Trade Center site I was. Today, I thought, I will stop into that church nearby and say a prayer for the fallen. Many tears would soon be shed.
I hadn’t been to the site for a while, so when I rounded the corner, I was shocked to see how little had been accomplished. Nearly ten years later, only one office building was rising in the corner. I had the incredible good fortune to be in the pit as part of a documentary crew when the first concrete was poured in November of 2005. It felt like nothing had been done. Here came the tears: I was angry, and more than that, ashamed.
I turned to go to the little chapel across the street. In over thirty years living in the city, I’d never visited this spot, built in 1766, and the oldest public building still in continuous use. It was here at St. Paul’s that workers, visitors, family and brokenhearted people went in the days and months after 9/11 to say a prayer, as I was doing now. Only hundreds of yards away, the tiny graveyard had been severely damaged and filled with debris after the towers fell. I stepped inside: it was minuscule! How could such a small place have held so much sorrow?
It turned out I had some help paying my respects. There were just a couple of people wandering around, viewing the incredible memorials left behind, the most moving being a mannequin topped with a London Bobby’s hat, completely covered with badges left by police, firemen and other responders from around the world. More tears.
And there was the choir. Right there, at that moment, a high school choir, complete with robes, was singing at St. Paul’s, at 1:30pm on a random Thursday. I sat and listened to a couple of hymns, and the director announced they would finish with two last pieces. They sang “May the Lord hold you in the palm of His hand until we meet again.” Tears: lots of them. They finished with The Hallelujah Chorus. By now I was a complete mess. How did I happen upon this? There was hardly anyone there but me! Turns out the choir was some kids from Michigan on a school trip who were just eager to sing in this hallowed place, audience be damned (pardon me).
By now there was nothing for it but to finish the afternoon by walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, where so many fled on that terrible day, which is such a monument to industry and invention, whose view is so vast and so purely American that you could swear you see Peter Minuet in the distance. I’ve only walked the Bridge a couple of times, and have made sure to reread Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” when I go. Tonight, I’ll do that before I go to bed.
How did this plan to stop off and pay my respects turn into this amazing day? I’ll never know, but to experience again the pain and brotherhood that was New York after September 11 was unexpected and felt like a private miracle.
And if you’re wondering? No, I wouldn’t have traded living here in the aftermath of that day for anything in the world.
Remembrance is vital.