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What to Remember on All Souls' Day, the Day of the Dead

Anyone who has ever lived in New York "knows from pigeons" At. Paul's we serve food outside on the porch, and some people eat outside. One day, I arrived to find pigeons joining us for breakfast.

Their sudden presence made me aware of their previous absence. The cop I was eating with said that, yes, pigeons were returning to the area, that when “It” happened, they all left. His words, voice and hand motions evoked the horror of "It," a moment of destruction causing death and desolation. And life was now coming back.

The neighborhood is also coming back to life. About ten days ago, the City moved the perimeter of the Frozen Zone one block closer to the Site in most directions. Most importantly, this meant that small sidewalk businesses that had been closed for six weeks could come back, and that people could actually start to work in their offices.

The three men who for years have been shining shoes on the sidewalk in front of Trinity Church's graveyard were back at work. It also meant that the public could walk along Broadway, where St. Paul's is.

There was some discussion about a church not being open to the public. It seemed clear to me that given the extraordinary circumstances, it was not only okay but right to be “exclusive.” This ministry is in part a sacred trust of sanctuary and privacy for a specific group of people.

However, despite the sanctuary being restricted, people could look at the outside of this amazing place, at flowers and candles and posters. Huge canvass sheets were put up for passersby to write notes on.

And finally the day came when they found the body of a Police Officer. Days, weeks past the time when there had been any hope for survivors, this was actually something that brought -- what word do I use? Joy isn't quite right, nor is satisfaction, nor relief. But all are also accurate. How do I describe how it hurt the Police, all those weeks when nothing but a badge had been found?

And how can I explain how, as the hope for survivors faded, it was replaced by the hope of finding a body, a body part, anything that would give a family or friend both proof that someone was dead and something tangible to bury?

This is one of the aspects of September 11th that leads back to the beginning: there is something so fundamentally wrong, off-balance here.

On this day that we remember the departed, let us also remember that the pigeons have returned.



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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