It was the first night I had any time to try and reach out to my niece and my nephew…My nephew worked for Goldman Sachs and was on his way to the World Trade Center the morning of 9/11. His was the first train turned around after the planes hit
My niece was at work in another skyscraper and saw the second plane hit the towers. She was one of the thousands who walked across the Brooklyn Bridge to get home that night.
It was now three weeks since it happened, and I was now at Ground Zero as a chaplain…For the first time since I got there we were allowed to venture out from our base and I decided to connect with them somehow.
As you can imagine people were edgy, and rumors interspersed with real events combined to create an anxiety level not unlike what we are experiencing right now At least three times during my stint at Ground Zero I was stopped and asked to produce I.D. (even though I was in a Coast Guard uniform)
The night I arrived in Manhattan I was stopped at a check point at Battery Park…directed to get out of the rental car while armed soldiers with automatic weapons searched my car—even running a mirror to check the undercarriage.
Another time the van carrying our team of chaplains to the Pile was stopped on the Verrazano Bridge. A ‘credible’ bomb threat had been made…again mirrors checking the undercarriage of the vehicle and I.D. checks for all.
So understandably, I was greatly relieved to have the opportunity to connect with family during this nightmare. I needed to take the Staten Island Ferry to get where I needed to go. While we were boarding the ferry an announcement was made that the sailing would be delayed as they made a search of the vessel…another bomb threat! I admit I was getting nervous as they then announced the ‘all clear’ and boarding resumed.
Once underway, I stood outside to get some much-needed fresh air. People were visibly shaken, and the anxiety was palpable. That’s when I saw him…or perhaps I should say that’s when he saw me. (I was in uniform and was carrying my hard hat and had my muddy boots on)
On my uniform there was a cross on the epaulets, so it is safe to say that he knew I was a minister. He was about 6’6” …tall… muscular and looked for all the world like a gang banger right out of central casting. He walked right up to me and had what I took to be a scowl on his face.
“Hey! You down there?”
I knew what he meant…
“Yes I’m working at the Pile”
“What goin on man? I’m gettin scared.”
“What’s your name?”
“Well Cleveland I’m scared too. Why don’t we pray right now?”
He knelt down…on the Staten Island ferry!
I knelt too—put my hand on his shoulder—and prayed for a while. I was not prepared for what I saw when I said amen. Dozens of people were gathered around joining us in prayer.
What I took that day to be a menacing look was really fear. I’m seeing it again. I am also having some great prayer meetings. I’ve learned the names of the people at the check outs and the drive-throughs. I’ve vicariously enjoyed other folks’ grandkids playing outside, while I am unable to be with my own.
This isn’t fun but it is an unusual opportunity to show and to receive the love of God. How do I know this?
I read it in the Gospel According to Cleveland
Can I get an Amen?