Sunday, September 11, 2011

ONE DECADE AFTER SEPT. 11, 2011.



















On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was at home in Bacerac, Sonora a village high up in the rugged sierras of Northern Mexico. I was having breakfast and getting ready to go to our DIF community center. I was checking my e-mails like I did early each morning on my Sharp - TM20. A small blue hand held device with a built-in acoustic modem, that used only an ordinary telephone (DTMF tones) to connect to a server in the US and pulled my e-mails. My Sharp TM-20 was my life line in the geographically isolated high sierras of Mexico.

All of a sudden I began to get e-mails from my brother who was living in San Diego at the time, and then others from a couple of nephews which were stationed at Ft. Bliss and Ft. Hood as well as a niece up in North Carolina. They were desperate to tell me about reports of a plane crashing into the south tower of the World Trade Center.

I immediately got on my old Kenwood SSB radio. Moments later, I begin hearing that a second plane had struck the North tower. I still remember my first response, "This can't be happening, I have to call Paul and Catherine, some close friends that lived in the Bronx to see how they were doing." Yet, each moment of that day treaded anguishly on. I couldn't believe what I was hearing - I felt nauseas, sick.

Soon I was on the phone calling the states. Before long the worse - no, the impossible occurred. The Towers had collapsed! I couldn't bare to imagine that happening, I had been up to the Windows on the World (the restaurant on the 107th floors of the North Tower of the World Trade Center) on a couple of occasions. A popular misconception is that Windows on the World was at the very top of the North tower. The fact was that at the very top or on the 110th floor was CNN along with several other local television stations.  

I had also visited the smaller, quieter and might I add romantic restaurant called Wild Blue once before, although we never stopped in to eat there. I did however had drank my fair share of Heinekens at the GBOE, as the local Wall Streeters and New Yorkers called "The Greatest Bar on Earth." These two restaurants and bar were expensive to be perfectly honest but with their amazing panoramic views of Manhattan and the tri-state area, they were well worth the cost of .

Within hours we came to know more about the damage to the Twin Towers and the many lives that would be lost. Soon I was trying to call the states, and with little success. Lines were busy. Later that evening when we began to receive our normal late evening televison programming, I began seeing the replays -  which became far more violent and catastrophic than any of us imagined. Being so far away, I felt angry and strangely alone. My first and deepest concern was what something like this would do to my beloved country's soul. Yet, having been in the military I also knew that the response to a terrorist attack of this scope would be decisive and powerful.

Unbelievably the Towers had collapsed, completely erased from this earth. The horrific suffering that had been served on all those innocent people became almost unbearable to watch or read about. 

In the hours and days to follow, another part of our American soul began to reveal itself. First responders, and people of all types and professions came together; the city and nation of people all shared in one common goal, and that was to reach out and take care of one another.

We heard about all those that had given their lives for strangers. Never hesitating, and selflessly doing everything in their power to rescue or comfort. Several times in the days that followed the September 11th attacks, just listening or watching the tragic stories of loss, and self-sacrifice brought both a inspirational Joy and tears of sadness. Yet I also begin to hear how the suffering of these hundreds or thousands was leading to the service of many thousands more.

I was in daily communication with Mexico City - at the time I was the municipal Director of the D.I.F. (Sistema Nacional para el Desarrollo Integral de la Familia; SNDIF or just DIF) a Mexican public institution of social assistance that focuses on strengthening and developing the welfare of the Mexican families. I was asked if I wanted to volunteer and assist on a temporary assignment to the Mexican Embassy in Manhattan. I would have to find my own way to NYC, but would have some sort of living accomodations when I got there.

I remember the frustration, almost desperation of not being able to leave right away, and at my first opportunity three weeks later I traveled the 8 hour drive to Hermosillo, the state capitol. I remember one morning reading the local newspaper, El Imparcial, it talked about how the entire world was mourning the USA's great loss. How everyone identified with a suffering America. The Mexican newspaper's headline read, "We are all Americans now." Five days later I was able to fly to DFW in Dallas and then after a couple of days in Dallas I was able to fly on to NYC on October 8th. Although we still had to get the special flight access because flights had just recently resumed. As of October 4th, flights into Reagan National were still very limited.

Upon arriving I headed to 40th West 45th St. between 5th and 6th street at a hotel called Club Quarters which was about 4 miles from the World Trade Center or ground zero as they had come to call it. It was also a couple of blocks to Times Square and Grand Central Station. My room had two small twin beds and smelled of smoke, not from ground zero rather from previous smokers. But I was tired and the small bed welcomed this weary traveler.

In those first days we reported to the Mexican Embassy early each morning. It was within walking distance over on 39th St. between Madison and Park Avenues. The air was still hazy and smelled of a strange metallic and acrid scent. Everyone around me was pretty solemn, but warm and passionate about why they were there. We began each day with a prayer and then we were driven over to St. Paul. Many days we took to walking so we could hand out our literature and cards. The small church began serving as a refuge for the hundreds of firefighters, police, volunteers who were involved in the aftermath of 9/11.

Somehow this tiny 18th century church, a 245-year-old stone chapel across the street from Ground Zero made it through the devastation unscathed. Miraculously, even as the towers collapsed around it, this tiny chapel stood tall and survived. Arranging the first supper of hot dogs on Sept. 12th, the chapel coordinated an effort that kept growing day by day and organized, cooked and served up to 3,000 meals a day.

The chapel, eventually had a coordinated army of 14,000 volunteers, that offered health care, counseling, rest and relief and even live music. It was a real-life sanctuary and safe haven for all the heroic rescue workers who would go on to toil for several months at Ground Zero. It is now a living testament to what happened on September 11, 2001.

Looking back, I sensed that everyone was looking for something. Everyone was either looking for someone, no one in particular or was simply there because they knew that they had to be there. I remember one firefighter telling me that his faith had been shattered. He had lost several of his long time fire station friends. But he said that when he was at St. Paul's, his faith started to come back, it was getting better, stronger.

We had hundreds of volunteers, from doctors and nurses, to chiropractors to podiatrists to counselors and food servers. We went from working to desseminate information to Mexican nationals and answer questions from people searching for information about a loved one and grieving relatives, to full hands on volunteerism. We did everything and anything that needed to be done. Our job now was to help the first responders and rescue volunteers somehow restore their strength and hearts while they restored the faith and hope of America.. 

The days were long but the relationships we started have since then become life long friendships. The time there made everyone very conscious of the relationships in their own lives. It brought families close and even strangers closer. People everywhere kept saying how their lives had been changed forever.

Today we look towards a day of healing. Where we embrace a forgiving heart, even though forgiveness doesn't necessarily mean that we should forget. It is important that we keep the memory of those who lost their lives alive. The final loss of precious lives was 2,983, including the victiims from the New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania on that Sept. 11, 2001 morning.

Yet realizing that hatred in any form is a cancer that will eat away at our soul. We must use all opportunities for deeper understanding, reflection, and redirection which will continue to elude us. Our reaction to terrorism and our defining it as a war, which is now a decade into it, has resulted in many more innocent casualties than on that unimaginable September 11th morning.

These wars, which are now the longest in our history, have failed to resolve or reverse the causes of the violence that struck us. It has not made us safer, if anything I believe that they have made it worse. If you don't believe me try traveling overseas now.

Today ten years later, we must forge an alternative response to the issues of injustice and violence, and reject the terrorism and war sequence of a failed moral logic. We must never allow this type of response to ever define our own as a nation.

Responses that have since March 19, 2003 caused us to lose over 4,474 young men and women in Iraq and 1,626 in Afghanistan. In addition to 33,143 troops who have been seriously wounded fighting there, and that will need our support and care for years to come. A response where we have spent over 3.7 trillion dollars to date or about $1,347,222 million each hour. 

So today, I pray as I have been for many years that we bring all of our troops home. That we finally begin to heal from this horrifically unforgettable day. Although there can be no return to the innocence lost on this day ten years ago, we must do all we can and rebuild a city, transform its people and a nation into one of Hope, of Faith and of Peace.

Let this day be a unique anniversary, one where we see an opportunity to reflect the values of the God to whom we have given our allegiance. Let us continue to remember those we lost and memorialize this day. Making a solemn commitment and promise to doing all we can towards contributing to the things that make for Peace.

Taking people and loved ones to a higher level - where they all matter mightly. To draw closer all those who are suffering, seek to cultivate understanding in the midst of suspicion, find truth in the arguments of those who may disagree with us, and embrace personal sacrifice today so that together we can build a better world for our tomorrows.

I pray that as we gather on a Sept. 11, 2021 morning; that we will find ourselves not amidst the memories of the ruins and all that was destroyed, but in the midst of a world of peace and security. The one which we will have built together bearing in mind the higher ideals of what our country and people are meant to be.

Finally, I want to end this blog with a prayer. It is called Decade 9.11 and was written by a Catholic Sister Kathleen Deignan, CND.

You who delight in making Your home with us dwell in our Beloved City, stricken and rising again.

We bow to all the souls of September 11th whose spirits encompass us on every side, especially those who gave their lives to rescue others.

In their honor, we are building a new city, a city of peace, here and now, in time and space - with every work of love, creativity, and justice, every gesture of compassion, mercy, and hospitality, every quickening of faith and prayer and remembrance ever offered to raise up our beloved earthly city.

So live with us here as the rock that grounds us, the water that surrounds us, the pure air we breathe in common.

Make us whole again and wholesome, humble and wise, architects of a city for all people: one family, one human tribe. Amen.














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National September 11 Memorial.