On Sept. 11, I pause to consider my own journey toward healing and ponder where the United States is as a nation.
I have two frames of reference for this day, which marks the second anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. First, I served in November 2001 for a week in New York City as a disaster team chaplain for the Red Cross and a chaplain for the United Methodist Committee on Relief disaster team. Second, as both a survivor of a murder in my family and a chaplain who counsels murder "co-victims," I have learned a lot about bereavement and its effects and treatments.
While I had a myriad of healing experiences during my week in New York, nothing moved me more profoundly than visiting the World Trade Center site itself in the daytime and then again at night. I cried both times for my wounded neighbors.
The sheer weight of grief overwhelmed me as I stood before picture after picture, letter after letter from family members hoping to find loved ones alive in the wreckage. The pictures were taped to walls, fences and posts surrounding the sacred gravesite of the World Trade Center.
Standing so close to so many fallen neighbors, I prayed to God to heal the families and to heal our land and all our people. I prayed that God would direct our leaders to respond to this tragedy in ways that would prevent it from happening again. I prayed that families could find parts of their murdered loved ones in the rubble so they could have certainty for a fitting memorial. I prayed for Father Mychal Judge, who died serving the fire fighters, and for all the fire fighters, police and emergency workers who valiantly gave their lives trying to save others.
I was deployed to the Family Assistance Center at Pier 94, where I met three people whose family members were murdered during the attacks. Each survivor was helped by prayer, tears and touch.
One of the three was Jewish and had come from Israel to America because he felt unsafe near the Gaza strip where he had lived. His wife died in the World Trade Center.
One worked in criminal justice, "putting away murderers," and now was the same kind of victim as the people with whom he worked on the job. His wife was killed.
The last of the three was a fireman whose brother was killed when the trade center towers collapsed.
I was sent there to be with them, to listen, to be fully present, to pray with and hear prayers from them, to allow their pain to ventilate in open air with no resistance, so that God could hear it and heal it.
The UMCOR team talked to people on the sidewalk outside a United Methodist church near 14th Street. We put a table up on the sidewalk as a listening post and offered free coffee and donuts and prayer leaflets. As New Yorkers came by, we poured coffee for them and asked a simple question, "How ya' doing since all this happened on Sept. 11?" Then we listened for as long as it took. Some talked a long time and even went into the church with us to pray. Some talked briefly.
One of the briefest conversations I had turned out to be the most profound.
A young, female typist had been working a block away from the towers, and on Sept. 11 she saw bodies cascading off the towers to the ground. That experience led to acute stress syndrome, and she could not sleep because of nightmares of bodies falling. She had flashbacks and panic attacks. I gave her our resource list of counselors, but it was when I looked at her and asked, "Would you like a word of prayer?" that she broke down.
After the prayer, she said she had not been able to go to or reach God, and now she felt she had broken through again to God. She thanked me seven times, and I had never been thanked seven times by one person before.
As our nation pursues its war on terrorism, I pray one prayer daily: that every day President George Bush will be led by God to do the "righteous thing" most pleasing to God and within God's will. Please join me praying for our president.
To heal our land, we must have God's love in us. In these days of pluralism and diversity, it is difficult to express God's love as revealed by my own particular faith without offending or excluding some group or individual. I think we should focus on what we have in common and our common beliefs rather than on differences that divide us.
For example, I cannot find one religion that disagrees with the Great Commandment of Deuteronomy 6:5: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might." Many of the 29 million atheists, agnostics and secular people in North America can agree with Leviticus 19:18: "Love your neighbor as yourself."
Finally, I pray for our nation and for those who have been victimized by murder before and after Sept. 11. I pray for God to heal us all.
*Cook is a United Methodist minister serving as director and chaplain of the Crime Victims Advocacy Council in Atlanta.
Commentaries provided by United Methodist News Service do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of UMNS or the United Methodist Church.