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Letters Home From the Front Lines of a Ministry: Part One

Dear Friends,

As I write, the weather is turning to fall here. At any other time, I would say this with delight, but it is cold at the site, and this means coughs and colds for the workers. We have had some rain, and will get more, which makes a difficult and dangerous job more so. And it is confounding that 12 or 24 hours of rain cannot cool the wreckage, that such intense, extensive heat could exist beneath the piles.

We have several cots available, but mostly the workers sleep on the wooden pews. We have plenty of blankets available, but usually people just lie down for a nap without one.

One very cold night, a volunteer -- a guy about 6’ 3” -- told me he had gone around and put blankets on people. I was so grateful to him for teaching me that. Haven't we all been almost asleep but too cold, not wanting to make the effort to get a blanket? And if someone covers you, aren’t you in heaven?

Later, as I followed his example, one sacred and tender moment followed another. As I write about it, I realize it was the same experience of washing feet on Maundy Thursday -- an intimate moment that is almost painful because we are touching such a vulnerable place and so aware of our need for one another.

When the Mayor was first asked about the number of casualties he said, "More than we can bear." Is this more than we can bear? Yes and no. What makes me believe we can bear it is the continued outpouring of compassion and care, among and between those who are at the site, and those who are not.

I wish there were words to describe the goodwill pervading St. Paul's and the site. This, despite exhaustion, confusion, discomfort, and the ever-present reminders of why we are here.

In the first days after September 11, it effects on people’s lives seemed to fall like dominos. It may be the most obvious in Manhattan, but it spreads in all directions. Now-unemployed airline workers. People forced to make homes out of hotel rooms. The man who sold coffee on Wall Street for 17 years can no longer do so. The small business owners in Chinatown who lived hand to mouth were closed down for days or weeks.

The millions of dollars pouring in will help people to rebuild their lives, and this is very good, but there is no way to measure the psychic loss or cost.

Many, many people heard and saw and felt this happen. Saw the second plane fly directly, intentionally, into a building where friends worked. Saw the towers collapse and "the cloud" come toward them. Heard the roar of thunder that would not stop. Some of these people were sure they would die. Are there more planes? Is the smoke toxic? The sight or sound of a plane, a siren, a sudden loud noise, can bring it back. So I would like to ask you to specifically pray for healing for the people who experienced September 11th, so that the spiritual equivalent of millions of dollars pours in. We are all in this together, and just as we are enriched by monetary giving, we heal ourselves by reaching out to others in prayer.

The Rev. Gwyneth MacKenzie Murphy, along with scores of other volunteers, has been serving rescue workers at ground zero at St. Paul's Chapel, across the street from the World Trade Center site. A native New Yorker, she is a priest in the Diocese of Utah. Before moving to Salt Lake, she served at St. John's in Oakland and Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.

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