On September 11, 2001, I was in Manhattan. Almost 3,000 people died there. I was moderately inconvenienced. And completely freaked out, but not in a way that mattered compared to the evacuees, the responders, the dead, the bereaved. It triggered some personal upheaval, but all of a philosophical nature. I was busy with work and theater, and since I didn’t have a TV I mostly missed the footage that kept re-traumatizing everyone else. When I glanced down Lexington Avenue at the lingering cloud or saw those Missing posters all over the subway, I looked away. I couldn’t stand to look, and I had the privilege of escapism.
Later the very phrase “nine-eleven” began to set my teeth on edge as it ginned up irrelevant and murderous wars and we squandered the goodwill America had gained in our moment as an underdog. I passed up even the quality films – Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center, United 93 – feeling like that was valid dissent from macho patriotism, not avoidance.
And then a few weeks ago this guy started getting to me.
It wasn’t intrusive: the odd mention, a notice of a statue dedication in Syracuse, someone citing a prayer attributed to him. It wasn’t anything to do with this year’s upcoming anniversary. Yet when I noticed the date was imminent and got ready, unconsciously, to shunt away any feelings it might bring up – I realized I didn’t have to. Somewhere in the last seventeen years, I got strong enough to look 9/11 in the eye.
With maybe a little help from twinkly-eyed Fr. Mychal. Certainly that’s in the spirit of a man who (according to biographer Michael Ford) strode constantly into difficult situations, never doubting that God would give him the strength to be present with those who were sick, injured, angry, or grieving.
So I took the 1 train to his house.
Portals to a St. Francis-style church:
Here’s what you see when you stand in front of the friary and face across the street.
This memorial to the 9/11 victims associated with the parish dominates the left side of the main sanctuary.
This internally lit stained-glass window is just outside the chapel on the church’s lower level. Made me cry, I don’t mind telling you.
This memorial is inset in the wall of the firehouse above, just below where it says Engine.
The plaque below this memorial includes a prayer that seems to have been a touchstone for Fr. Mychal.
Take me where You want me to go
Let me meet who You want me to meet
Tell me what You want me to say
And keep me out of Your way.
West 31st Street next to Madison Square Garden:
Compassionately facing whatever’s coming his way –