On another Tuesday morning eleven years ago today, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center cast their final shadows over the neighboring buildings in lower Manhattan. Before noon that day, the shadows would be gone, and so were the towers. The world– and the New York City skyline– had changed forever.
One small, unassuming building that miraculously escaped the effects of the collapse of the towers and the resulting hurricane of debris and humanity was St. Paul’s Chapel. As the oldest continuous-use public building in New York City, it survived the burning of New York in September 1776 when the British re-took the city from the Continental army. Back then, St. Paul’s was saved by a bucket brigade. Flash forward to 2001, and it was saved by a 100-year-old sycamore tree that bore the brunt of the towers’ collapse, shielding the small building as if Divine Providence were saving it for a special purpose.
Within days of the terrorist attacks in 2001, St. Paul’s became a place of refuge for the rescuers. Due to its close proximity to Ground Zero, rescue and recovery workers would make their way to the chapel where they found a hot meal, massage therapists to soothe their aching muscles, and people to pray with them and for them to soothe their aching souls. Some would just come to rest or sleep in the pews after long hours of working in “the pit” that was Ground Zero. One police officer called St. Paul’s an “oasis of heaven in the midst of hell.”
Volunteers from all faiths and walks of life came from around the country to help the helpers. This ministry to the workers at Ground Zero continued for several months until the recovery work officially ended in May 2002.
This wasn’t the first time in its history that St. Paul’s filled an important role as a place for reflection and worship for citizens and leaders following a traumatic time. Another American hero made his way to the doors of the chapel on a day long before 9-11. Before attending a service of thanksgiving at St. Paul’s in April 1789, President George Washington was inaugurated just a short walk away from the chapel in Federal Hall (on Wall Street). At that time, the nation’s capital was New York City. Having just come through the war for our independence, the young nation and its citizens were in need of direction and an uplifting sentiment from their new leader (much like the days following the attacks). In his inaugural address, Washington stated:
“No People can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the Affairs of men more than the People of the United States. Every step, by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency.”
The same could be said of the little chapel that survived the fall of the Twin Towers. Today, St. Paul’s Chapel remains, as always, a place of worship, but also serves as sort of a mini-museum to where the events of September 11, 2001 can be remembered and reflected upon by all who visit there. Several exhibits memorialize those who perished, and pay tribute to the brave police officers, firemen and other first-responders who put themselves in harm’s way in order to save others.
The first time I saw it, I was on a mission trip to New York City in June, 2002—just about 9 and a half months after the terrorist attacks. The Cross at Ground Zero stood on a pedestal with an American flag waving at the base of it. At that time, efforts to recover those who perished had recently been completed. It was, and still is considered to be sacred ground, even as construction continues there to this day.
The two intersecting steel beams where found by construction workers in the rubble in the days following September 11, 2001. The cross became a source of comfort to people of all faiths who worked at the site, as well as to those who have visited for more than a decade.
It’s no surprise of course that atheist organizations have expressed their displeasure with the icon over the years. Most recently, American Atheists has filed a lawsuit that claims, oddly enough, that the cross at Ground Zero is making them sick.
According to WorldNet Daily, the lawsuit, American Atheists v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey makes the bizarre claim that the plaintiffs “have suffered …. dyspepsia, symptoms of depression, headaches, anxiety, and mental pain and anguish from the knowledge that they are made to feel officially excluded from the ranks of citizens who were directly injured by the 9/11 attack.” They go on to make the suggestion that at the very least, they’d like to have a 17-foot “A for atheists” structure built in order to promote their non-beliefs at Ground Zero.
Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice calls the lawsuit “absurd” and countered by filing a friend- of- the- court brief signed by more than 100,000 people in support of the Ground Zero Cross.
The National September 11 Memorial and Museum has stated that the cross is an “important and essential artifact [that] comprises a key component of the retelling of the story of 9/11” The museum also contends, “We are in the business of telling the story of 9/11 and the victims of 9/11”, and the Cross is part of an exhibit to tell that story. One museum official said, “In the historical exhibition, the cross is part of our commitment to bring back the authentic physical reminders that tell the story of 9/11 in a way nothing else can.”
Even other atheist groups find the lawsuit to be a frivolous waste of time. Susan Jacoby, who writes an atheist blog for The Washington Post, agreed it “misconstrues the First Amendment”.
It’s unlikely American Atheists will get very far with this particular lawsuit, but still they’ll press on, looking for some other thing, somewhere to offend them. In fact, they seem to spend an awful lot of time and energy railing against Someone they say they don’t even believe exists. They’re either the stupidest people on the planet, or there’s something else going on here.
To put it another way, let’s look at unicorns. I don’t believe they exist. Until I just typed that sentence, I haven’t thought about them. I don’t start organizations or give to organizations that try to get other people to believe unicorns don’t exist. I don’t file lawsuits to attempt to remove all unicorns from public display. When I see a picture of one, I don’t claim physical illness or mental distress. They just aren’t on my radar.
Perhaps these atheists are feeling physical symptoms because something deep inside themselves that they can’t control is coming to the surface. The part they deny exists (the spirit) is trying to break free. For an atheist, the Ground Zero Cross may not be causing indigestion so much as it’s causing conviction.
*** UPDATE: 4/1/13: On Friday (Good Friday), March 29, 2013, New York Federal Judge Deborah Batts rejected the atheist group’s arguments and threw this case out. You can read about it here. A victory for common sense and The Cross.
There’s a chill in the air that has nothing to do with the fact that it’s now October. In his new book, “Obama’s Wars”, journalist Bob Woodward tells of a conversation he had with President Obama in which the Commander-in-Chief told him we can “absorb a terrorist attack”.
According to Woodward, the president stated, “I said very early on, as a Senator and continue to believe, as a presidential candidate and now as president, that we can absorb a terrorist attack. We will do everything we can to prevent it. but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever, that ever took place on our soil, we absorbed it, and we are stronger. This is a strong, powerful country that we live in, and our people are incredibly resilient.”
Yes, I agree the American people are very resilient, but this statement seems to give the impression that the idea of a few thousand more people dying at the hands of terrorists on American soil is really no big deal. It’s an amazing display of his detachment from and lack of feeling towards the American people, which he seems to display with some regularity.
But what else would you expect from an administration that changed the “War on Terror” to “overseas contingency operations’? He’s either completely clueless about the dangers we face or he just doesn’t care. Although to be fair, he did go on to say that nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists would be “a game changer”.
I can’t believe he would really think that the next attack would be on the same scale or by the same means as 9-11. Because of the escalating nature of terrorism, the next attack is likely to result in many more deaths. You can be sure that the families of future victims won’t be “absorbing” the attack any more than the families of the 9-11-01 victims have.
The leader of a free people who swore to uphold the Constitution and defend the nation against all enemies should never expect the people he works for to “absorb” another attack on our soil. He should be doing anything and everything to prevent it.
A president’s main duty under the Constitution is to provide for the common defense. But instead, this president is busy micro-managing the financial industry, the automobile industry, the economy (how’s that working for us?), health care, student loans– the list gets longer everyday. He and his minions have their spindly little fingers in everyone’s pie. Is it any wonder he has such an aloof attitude towards the destruction that another attack would bring our way?
Oh for the good old days when President Clinton would bite his lower lip, tell us, “I feel your pain” and shed a few crocodile tears. Those were good times.
**Note: The images and audio linked in this post will be upsetting. They’re not meant to be sensational or disrespectful, only to help all of us to never forget.**
Tomorrow marks the 9th anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on American soil. A year ago, I started this blog with the posting “Things to Remember on 9-11”. In the years since that horrible day, much has been written about, spoken of, argued over, etc. when it comes to the events of September 11, 2001 and why they happened. Sometimes it seems that the real people that were affected—those whose lives were lost and the people who love them—get brushed to the side. Even now, images of the attack come along less and less as the always-parental media (who know what’s best for us) refuse to replay or reprint them, for fear of upsetting anyone or of being politically incorrect.
That’s not the case here. Truth lives, and sometimes it hurts. We can try to bury it in the past, but we can’t ever let ourselves forget what really happened…and what really did happen that day? Put yourself in some other shoes…
Suppose you were a tourist hoping to get an early start on seeing all the sights of New York, or maybe you are a local on your way to work. The day is beautiful and calm until the first plane strikes the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Not long after, another plane strikes the South Tower. Shock and fear surround you as the chaos unfolds. As you watch people running—and jumping—from the two skyscrapers, you wonder why this is happening and when it will end.
Inside the building, those who managed to escape later described what was going on as “surreal” and “hellish”. You definitely get that feeling when you listen to the 9-11 calls of those trapped above the points of impact. Kevin Cosgrove’s last moments of life have been heard and remembered by people who never met him, as were those of Melissa Doi. Both of their 9-11 calls have been edited together here. Mr. Cosgrove, trapped on the 105th floor of the South Tower is last heard exclaiming, “Oh, God!”, as the tower begins to come down above him.
No less compelling are the terrified pleas of Ms. Doi to the 9-11 operator, asking if anyone was coming to help them on the 83rd floor. Trying to keep her calm, the operator tries repeatedly to reassure her as she asks, “I’m going to die aren’t I?” Ms. Doi also describes the unbearable heat and the heavy smoke that caused many office workers to jump some 1200 feet to their deaths to avoid being incinerated.
This above photo, known as “The Falling Man” became famous around the world. Most papers ran it only once, resulting in much criticism from their readers. The Associated Press photographer who took the picture, Richard Drew, expressed his feelings towards the critics by saying, “I didn’t capture this person’s death. I captured part of his life. This is what he decided to do, and I think I preserved that.” Drew explained in an interview that 9-11 was more than just the crumbling of the buildings. It was about the people. Nine years later, the identity of this man is still uncertain, but in his death, he’s become a symbol of the horrendous choice many of those in the towers were forced to make that day.
- Photo by Susan Meiselas/ Magnum Photos
**PLEASE CHECK BACK FOR PART 2 POSTING TOMORROW AFTERNOON***