Report from Ground Zero

I just returned from Ground Zero in New York City. Awestruck is the only word that comes to mind after seeing the scope of the devastation at what was once the World Trade Center on the Lower West Side of Manhattan. Thanks to the good graces of the local clergy and Red Cross, I was able to get right onto the site. All the pictures I’d seen couldn’t fully capture the enormity of the destruction that stood before me. Standing on the pile, I prayed and wondered what might come out of this incredible and atrocious event.

I met people doing extraordinary things that day, but I was especially struck with several groups of firefighters from cities around the country and Canada. They had come to attend memorial services and "just to be here," as one young fireman told me. After speaking to several of these men and women, I realized what was going on. They were pilgrims visiting a holy site. That’s what their faces and voices revealed to me. I’ve been to other holy sites and seen other pilgrims, and now saw the same thing going on at the site of the attacks.

We don’t visit holy sites just for the ritual; we go to be changed. How will the events of Sept. 11 change us? Will they change us? I am coming to believe that Sept. 11 could either become a doorway to transformation—or set us back for years.

The nation has moved quickly from peace and prosperity to war and recession. America has been attacked more massively and viciously than at any other time in our history. How will we respond? The truth is that it’s too early to say. But what are the choices before us?

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 2002
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