11Sep Early in September, New York City – Remembering 9/11

Fr Mychal Judge, the first recorded casualty of 9/11

Early in September, New York City

Chris McDonnell CT September 11 2020

It was a clear, blue-skied September Tuesday morning in New York City, a brilliant day in early Fall, a busy city, streets full of traffic, people going to work in down-town Manhattan. The usual hurry and bustle made it no different to any other workaday morning.

But that would change in an instant when, just after a quarter to nine, the first of two hi-jacked passenger planes, American Airlines Flight 11, hit the World Trade Centre North Tower, to be followed just after nine by another, United Airlines Flight 175, plunging high into the South Tower.

The 9/11 attacks not only became the single deadliest terrorist attack in human history, they were also the deadliest incident ever for firefighters, as well as for law enforcement officers in the United States. Among the many casualties that day the New York City Fire Department lost 343 among their ranks, while 23 New York City police officers and 37 Port Authority officers lost their lives.

It was an unprecedented attack, the calculated use of passenger aircraft as flying bombs, indiscriminately killing thousands of innocent people.

Two other planes had different targets that day, one crashing in to the Pentagon in Washington DC, the other brought down in a field following the heroism of passengers on board. It was believed to be on course for the Capitol.

It was a day like no other, now labeled in history by the number of the month and the date of the day. 9/11.

We have since lived with its consequences. Other terrorist attacks have taken place and we have had to experience the constant presence of war. Those billowing clouds of grey smoke and dust still haunt our lives.

The first identified casualty in NYC was the Catholic Chaplain to the NYFD, Fr Mychal Judge. The image of his lifeless body being carried from the ruins of the Trade Centre by the men he faithfully served remains a graphic reminder of that tragic day.

These few words were written towards the end of that September.

Manhattan

Tears, white

flecked fears, peeling paper-shreds,

fragments of floors,

dust under a sunlit sky early that Tuesday,

this September,

on a mid-Manhattan Morning.

Grey, dusted figures drift,    

stunned,

under this shattered Autumn-skied space,

figures stumble through down-town streets,

in wordless silence.

 

North and

then, carrying early morning coffee cups,

greeting friends

with idle chat from lift doors and lobbies,

across a paper pile, stacked here and there,

still under yesterday’s desk

till howling siren-scream, as explosion

then implosion, took out first this floor,

then those above and many beneath.

 

South where

orange glow and scattered fragments

filled wide windows, open spaces where,

in stunned amazement, people stood.

The grey-haired banker,

the brash-young stock broker,

the imaginative engineer,

the young sharp-eyed carpenter,

staring speechless, unable fully to understand,

secure still within their personal space,

beyond an expanding fireball.

 

Final impact

on South, a faint line of hope gone,

as Mothers of young ones, the Father of four,

wives, husbands, sisters, brothers, lovers,

friends and families, the casual workers,

those city consultants,

the cluster of company directors,

their frantic fingers on mobile phones,

tapping out numbers

and only cold-voiced answering machines

responding.  

 

Final call.

In the weeks and months that followed, countless workmen sifted through the debris pile as lorry load after lorry load carried the twisted remains to the final resting place, a tip site on nearby Staten Island.

One of the most poignant songs from that time was written and recorded by Mary Chapin Carpenter. It tells the story of the men who worked on the Pile, day after day, returning after a brief night’s sleep to continue the task. Her few lines root their task in a grim reality.

Grand Central Station

Got my work clothes on for love, sweat and dirt
All this holy dust upon my face an’ shirt
Headin’ uptown now, just as the shifts are changin’
To Grand Central Station

I’ve got my lunch box, got my hard hat in my hand
I ain’t no hero, mister, just a workin’ man
An’ all these voices keep on askin’ me to take them
To Grand Central Station, Grand Central Station

Wanna stand beneath the clock just one more time
Wanna wait upon the platform for the Hudson line
I guess you’re never really all alone or too far from
The pull of home an’ the stars upon that painted dome still shine

I paid my way out on the 42nd Street
I lit a cigarette and stared down at my feet
Imagined all the ones that ever stood here waitin’
At Grand Central Station, Grand Central Station

And now Hercules is starin’ down at me
Next to him ‘s Minerva and Mercury
Well, I nod to them and start my crawl
Flyers coverin’ every wall, faces of the missing are all I see

Tomorrow, I’ll be back there, workin’ on the pile
Going in, comin’ out, single file
Before my job is done there’s one more trip I’m makin’
To Grand Central Station, Grand Central Station

Grand Central Station
Grand Central Station

It took many months to complete the task. It was not till the end of May, 2002 that the final girder was lifted clear. It was given an identity tag ‘Column 1001B.’

This was written on that occasion

Looking forward

Column

1001B came down.

Laid on a flatbed,

covered in black muslin

and the US flag,

it was tucked

in a corner

of the site

before removal.

Bugler

and

bagpipes and the song

of sad memories

of

the police officer,

the firefighter,

the demolition man

and

the smell of smoke.

 

Days                  

and weeks and months

spent searching, moving, clearing

lifting

the debris           

of that sunlit Autumn morning.

the girder and broken concrete block

the single shoe,

the notebook

and                     

the silent mobile phone.

 

Gently                

they moved them

as men were carried once

from the fields of Europe,

one by one.

Now it is done.    

With the final shard of metal gone,

it is time to start again.

Repair the pain.

 

  Column 1001B end of May 2002

Countless numbers of words have been written about the events of that fateful Tuesday morning. Stories told, tears shed and memories recalled. Now two deep pools of over flowing water mark the vacant footprint of the Twin Towers.

We are still living with the harsh consequences of a terrible moment in time.    

END

One Response

  1. Soline Humbert

    Thank you Chris.
    More about Mychal Judge’s unique spiritual contribution ,ministry and witness as a gay priest.
    https://www.newwaysministry.org/2020/09/11/the-unique-spirituality-of-father-mychal-judge/

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