15 years af­ter 9/11, stand­ing up to the scourge of ter­ror­ism

China Daily (USA) - - ACROSS AMERICA - James Healy Con­tact the writer at jimhealy888@chi­nadaily.com. cn

As Amer­i­cans and much of the world paused on Sun­day to re­mem­ber the day 15 years ago when New York’s gi­ant twin tow­ers were felled by ter­ror­ists, I re­called the tiny church that stood nearby un­scathed, though fire and brim­stone rained down around it.

I first learned of St. Paul’s Chapel at a holiday party sev­eral years ago hosted by author Robert Lawrence Holt, my neigh­bor in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Cal­i­for­nia.

His fel­low author Ar­line Cur­tiss in­tro­duced us to a chil­dren’s book she had just pub­lished, an il­lus­trated work meant to help kids cope with the hor­rors of 9/11. The book tells the story of St. Paul’s Chapel, the tiny Epis­co­pal Church that was built in 1766, less than 100 yards from where the tow­ers would later rise.

She pro­cee­hhded to read The Lit­tle Chapel That Stood, aloud to the gath­er­ing, and most of us were left mistyeyed. The book de­scribes how fire­fight­ers ar­riv­ing at the scene, be­fore rush­ing into doom, put on their fire boots just out­side the chapel and hung their shoes on the iron fence.

Those shoes re­mained un­claimed af­ter the tow­ers col­lapsed. They hung still as sur­viv­ing fire­fight­ers sought so­lace inside the chapel, and they stayed on the fence long af­ter­ward, a haunt­ing re­minder of the brave lives lost.

The chapel, which also sur­vived the Great Fire of New York in 1776, proved to be an im­pen­e­tra­ble sanc­tu­ary again on 9/11. When brick and mor­tar col­lapsed that fate­ful day, the lit­tle church suf­fered no dam­age — not even when part of a steel girder from the fall­ing tow­ers hur­tled to­ward it.

When I vis­ited New York City again for the first time in decades, I went to St. Paul’s. Just inside the door­way is a shrine to fire­fight­ers that has grown over the years, and you can see the old wooden pew where Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton, the first US pres­i­dent, once sat dur­ing ser­vices. The calm in the heart of the chapel be­lies the fury that once raged out­side.

In the cor­ner is a small gift shop, and there, on the counter, was a tidy stack of The Lit­tle Chapel That Stood.

As I told the shop at­ten­dant how the author read the book aloud that night, and my eyes teared up at the mem­ory of the pow­er­fully up­lift­ing tale, she of­fered a box of tis­sues, say­ing they were kept on hand be­cause vis­i­tors of­ten wept.

Cur­tiss’ story of self­less brav­ery re­minded me that wan­ton de­struc­tion and the tak­ing of lives — spe­cial­ties of the ter­ror­ist — re­quire no spe­cial qual­i­ties.

But it takes char­ac­ter, and even courage, to build some­thing that will last, like the chapel that stood or the spirit of a peo­ple. Those, it seems, can­not be de­stroyed.


McKenna Thomas of Philadel­phia pauses to read me­mo­rial rib­bons tied to the ex­te­rior wall of St Paul’s Chapel on the morn­ing of the 15th an­niver­sary of the 9/11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Lower Man­hat­tan.

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