After sharing the terror of those who worked and lived around the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, three clergy from Trinity Church Wall Street draw messages of hope, healing, and resurrection from the events of the past year. The Rev. Gayanne Silver, associate for worship and education ministries, points to the power of community to give us strength to move on.
Pointing to the Power of Community
The Rev. Gayanne Silver helped evacuate preschool children on September 11. She has since spent countless hours counseling traumatized parishioners. "Just when you think you've moved on," she says, "you find you haven't." She takes up the story.
Photo: John Allen/Trinity News
Personal Systematic Theology
I say this every opportunity I get: people tend to swallow things that come from the Church whole cloth, and since 9/11 there has been an opportunity for people to ask, "What do I really believe?"
Now people are really working out their own systematic theology, so they can write their own creed. What do I believe? How does this hol up against the dogmas of the Church? At the same time, people are taking a closer look at their own deaths. I've heard many say that they are afraid of the way they are going to die, but they are not afraid of dying. I would claim that for myself?well, that happened for me with the death of my son [Mo. Silver's son, Jason, died two years ago at the age of 23]. I think I did a lot of this journey when Jason died.
With everybody having experienced the same hell at the same time, there was a lot of opportunity to talk about death. There was more of a willingness to say aloud, "I accept the inevitability of my own death."
As Christians, we see death as an end: We die. We don't trick death. We die. We're dead as doornails, and we're resurrected in the spirit life ? whatever that's going to look like ? but we believe there's more. So we begin to think about that, and what Scripture actually says about that. That's a formative thing: you begin to get your life more in line with what you believe.
How to Talk about Trauma
The trauma * you can't turn from it, but we shouldn't be rehashing all the old news. We should be talking about how we've moved on. We need to be talking about it again, from a Resurrection standpoint. What has God done with what we've experienced? More people are coming in to talk and to join small groups, giving us the opportunity to talk about things as well. And it still comes up in our sermons.
Theologically, positively, people understand in a new way what God's presence means, that it's not a matter of if I say the right prayers, or if I'm good, then no bad will happen. It's learning to trust that God is with us and we don't have the answers. Deciding to trust it and accepting the grace to trust it. Sometimes that's easier and sometimes it's not.
St. Paul's Chapel
Everyone went through these cycles. At St. Paul's, during the ministry to recovery workers there, some days you'd say to a rescue worker, "How was the soup today?" and all the emotion would pour out. It wasn't always that ay.
I was a person who said I thought St. Paul's should have closed earlier than it did. For the most part, the firemen had been pulled away, the policemen were not in there in the numbers that they had been. It was the construction workers who were there, and they are paid much more. When do we say, we can be open as a place to come for a cup of coffee, or to talk, but not to serve all those free meals when the merchants in the area were in such desperate need of business? It was almost a justice issue.
I would stop by on Sundays after church, or if someone needed a service. I wondered if it was beginning to grow into navel-watching, if maybe it was time for people to move on.
But then, at that closing service, those workers shared publicly what St. Paul's meant to them, how it was important that it was there that whole time. I think the timing was probably just right for when it did close.
What Trinity can Offer
the Wider Church
What we have to offer is to let people know what it was like actually to be in it. I would visit with my cousin in Connecticut right after the disaster. There, you could watch a child's soccer game, and pretend things were normal. Here, in lower Manhattan, we couldn't pretend life was normal. Because we could not move away from it, we talked about it more than other people did.
I have clergy friends who call me and say, "How horrible it was, how are you going on?" Well, our experience here was such that we were not dwelling in that at all; it became reality pretty quick. You do what you need to do.
But because we were here, we can point to the power of community to help us heal, the power of community to give us strength to walk on. Maybe it's as simple as that: sharing how we came through it.
It would be interesting to ask people what their snapshots are of that particular day, what are the things that when someone says "9/11" you think of?
I think of Mike Borrero, our building manager, and a preschool parent himself, standing in the lobby. He was standingat the desk, telling people what to do, and he had tears streaming down his face, but his voice was together, and to me it was such a picture of leadership.
In evacuating the preschool, this little girl that I was carrying out didn't know me from Adam's housecat. She was pulling and fighting me as we were going out the door. When we got out the door she looked at the street she knew so well and saw nothing that she recognized. She wrapped her arms and legs around me as tight as she could and she buried her head in my neck. That's a snapshot.
I think it's really important that we tell our stories. With our Bible stories, with who we are as a people, or telling our children who we are as a family. This is very important. And I think what happens as we tell our 9/11 stories, is that more of the day comes back to us.
We haven't dealt with all, in our psyches, of what happened that day. It's important for us to tell, and for others to hear.
When the folks from Oklahoma came to New York and shared their story, how well that was received. And it wasn't "do this, do that." It was just the kind of strength that's given with "We got through this. You will get through this."