Sunday, August 13, 2006

Faith Walk at Ground Zero

"Faith Walk at Ground Zero" by Rick Ufford-Chase

Keywords: sacrifice

St. Paul’s Chapel in New York City, the oldest public building that has been continuously in use on the island of Manhattan. This was George Washington’s first stop after his inauguration. St. Paul’s also has the distinction of being immediately across the street from Ground Zero where the twin towers of the World Trade Center once soared well over one hundred stories in the air.
St. Paul’s became a place of hospitality and care for the recovery workers who worked to clear away the rubble and debris that reached twenty stories up and sank seven more into the ground…

Here, the pews are battered with the marks of the heavy tool belts worn by the hundreds of workers in the recovery effort who came in to sit for a while and try to recharge after long hours of working to clear bodies, mementos, and the wreckage of the towers. Today, there is still a trundle bed, low to the floor and neatly made up with stuffed animals on the pillow, a reminder of the beds which ringed the sanctuary for many months to provide a place of refuge for the exhausted folks whose bodies and souls were equally battered by the grim work.

There are home-made banners of support from all over the country and around the world that hang on the walls and on the front of the balconies that line the room on three sides, and there are what can only be described as shrines of remembrance for both the victims of the disaster and for the sacrifice of so many of those who responded. Members of this church and hundreds of volunteers of all faiths fed thousands of recovery workers here each day. They offered counseling and care for the men and women who came in off "the pile" that eventually was known as "the pit." George Washington’s historic pew, a ten by ten, enclosed box on one side of the room, became the podiatry clinic where the workers received care for their cut or burned feet. One volunteer told us that no one entered the room untouched by their experience in the pit, but they left with spirits renewed in this place of worship...

There is a wrought-iron fence that surrounds the historic graveyard between the church and the site of Ground Zero. On the morning of the disaster, firefighters parked on the street by the church and rushed to change from civilian clothes into their protective equipment. Many hung their street boots upside-down on the spikes of the fence to be collected when they returned at the end of the day. By the next day, volunteers realized that the owners of many of the boots would never come back to collect them, and the fence that circles almost a city block became a memorial to those who lost their lives - more than three hundred of them - in their attempt to save those who were in and around the towers at the time of the attack.

Boots upside down on the fence. This is the image that stays with me. A witness to the fact that there is a cost to caring for and about others. I hunger for a church and a country in which we embody that kind of sacrifice

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