In the first few weeks of this, back in March, I found that my thoughts were constantly going back to September 11th 2001. It felt to me like we were reliving those dramatic September days, but in slow motion. A vivid memory from 2001 often comes unbidden to my mind. It is a memory from the days immediately after that unforgettable Tuesday, as smoke was still rising from the rubble, and rescue teams worked around the clock. A group of us sisters decided to go down to lower Manhattan. We didn’t have a plan, but we wanted to be close to those suffering and simply be available. We decided to go straight to St. Vincent’s (for non-New Yorkers, that was the hospital closest to the Twin Towers), figuring that was where people who were rescued from the rubble would be taken and also where families would gather.
In those first days it was hoped, and assumed, that as the rescue workers labored to uncover debris, survivors would be found and rescued. There were high hopes that people were trapped, yet alive. Families were handing out, and posting, missing persons fliers: memorial walls sprang up all over lower Manhattan, especially around the hospital—a face, a name, a distinguishing mark, always headed by the word MISSING. The strong hope of finding loved ones alive persisted for some days, but soon the city and the nation began to realize the magnitude of the destruction. The heat of the jet fuel, the implosion of the building…the impossibility of survival began to sink in.
But in the early days, it was all so unclear. The medical staff at St. Vincent’s were waiting around in scrubs, poised for ambulances to coming racing in with victims to save…but the ambulances never came. Standing there on the sidewalk in front of St. Vincent’s, facing a wall of “Missing Person” flyers, I started to pray the Rosary, mostly because I didn’t know what else to do. I was with another sister, and we stood side-by-side as we quietly prayed the familiar prayers, with beads slipping through our fingers one by one. We gazed at the faces as we prayed for them all.
There was a man on the sidewalk with us. He stood there in his three-piece suit about four feet to my right. As the decades went on I noticed that he moved closer and closer; until he was right at my side, moving gently with the rhythm of the Rosary. I assumed that he was not a Catholic, because he did not say the prayers or even move his lips, but he stood with us, rocking with the Hail Marys as the tears streamed down his cheeks.
Of all my memories of those weeks and months, that Rosary prayed with that man whose name I do not know, is the most vivid. Comfort, consolation, peace: these are the byproducts of the Rosary. When there are no answers, when there is only haze and smoke and uncertainty, when you don’t know what else to do, pray the Rosary. It will bring you peace, the peace you need to take the next good step.
Mother Clare, CFR