On 9/10/2017 I attended evening Jazz Vespers at Saint Peter’s. During the service, each worshipper was invited to pray individually with one of the worship leaders. I prayed with my pastor at the baptistery where 16 years earlier countless people, fearful and stunned, washed the soot from their faces and sat together in the presence of God. He prayed with me and for me. The anointing oil he placed on my forehead released tears from my eyes. They dropped on my jacket and his vestments as if God was cleansing me from the pain I was feeling. When the amen ended the prayer, he embraced me, an embrace that said, “I know. I feel it too.” My tears then mingled in the same baptismal waters that comforted on 9/11/2001.
Hearing the names of victims who died on 9/11 during this 16th anniversary observance I feel a skin crawling chill when hearing the name of someone I knew personally or feel like I knew all my life through the remembrances of family, friends and colleagues. I want to know them all. I wish I had. Voices of readers crack. Faces seek composure. Pictures are held. Buttons are worn. They pay tribute to family members they knew or have come to know as I have. The tears are raw and real. For some the tears are ever present. For others, they flow annually during these 102 minutes.
The tears of today didn’t begin on 9/11/2001. For many there was travel through stages of grief before ever getting to tears. Today is a reminder the journey is not over. Very quickly after 9/11 some wanted to bypass the tears and move on. There was a call to shut the interfaith respite outreach ministry at St. Paul’s Chapel in March 2002 as if the response had ended and it was time to move on. Time to get Easter finery ready and take down banners of thanks to recovery workers hung in the sanctuary and bicycles locked to street sign poles abandoned by messengers who never returned from their rounds at the towers. Thankfully the haunting blank stares of recovery workers coming off the pile with their expressions of craving comfort and assurance were heard over the few calls to “get over it.” These workers had not begun to cry – not even close.
There was false hope it would be time for the tears to stop after the 5th anniversary, then 10th, then 15th. Is it over for more than 1,000 families who have received no remains to bury? There are no identified remains for 40% of World Trade Center (WTC) victims. I shared this horrific fact with someone the other day and the person was shocked and had no idea. When will the tears stop for thousands of 9/11 responders and survivors who have at least one illness from 9/11 or for over 6,500 who have at least one certified WTC-related cancer? It is estimated in just a few years the WTC death toll could more than double since 2001.
Some are old tears, some new. There is a time to cry. Today is one of them. It is also a day to pray for families of all 9/11 victims – to be present and catch their tears. It is a day to say thank you to all who responded and continue to respond in this long-term recovery. It is a day for our tears to bring us to action in supporting victims of hurricanes, earthquakes, fires and injustice and those responding to their needs. I pray we remember that just as there is a time for tears, there is a time to build up, a time to heal and a time for peace.
John J. Scibilia, CCA
(2001-2006 Executive Director of Lutheran Disaster Response of New York at Ground Zero)