The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)

A ground zero chaplain recalls that terrible day

- By the Rev. Bill Keane The Rev. Bill Keane is chaplain of the Branford Police Department.

I was an on-site ground zero chaplain. It’s easy for me to recall the pained expression­s and gruesome sights of that inexpressi­ble human tragedy. Yet alongside those recollecti­ons are memories of happier times at the World Trade Center, when my dad had an office in the South Tower and I would chaperon field trips for schoolchil­dren there. Having watched the tower’s completion from my 16th Street Manhattan high school, I loved that place.

Yet the towers were gone. And we went on. Not in a callous way, but in a determined fashion, demonstrat­ing that America is as strong as any concrete. She lives in the sturdy hearts of people like the ironworker­s who so deftly lifted giant shards of twisted steel amid laboring firefighte­rs and police. Over nine months of cleanup at the scene, not one additional life was lost.

Officially, 2,997 people were willfully murdered in New York, Washington, D.C., and Shanksvill­e, Pa., in September 2001. How we responded as individual­s and as a nation is what really tells the story.

With smoke still hanging in the air, tents were quickly put up to serve food and drink to all on-site personnel. The tents morphed into an oblong structure affectiona­tely nicknamed the Taj Mahal. Inside, 12,000 meals were served every day by volunteers who’d come from nearby and thousands of miles away.

Fact is, 99 percent of people who were on floors below where the planes struck were saved. These souls survived, in part, because people in uniform, with families and friends and dreams, were willing to put themselves in harm’s way so that others they’d never met would find a path to safety. Our bravest and finest do this every day.

For me, September 2001 isn’t so much about a massive structural collapse, but a renewed appreciati­on for those among us who steadfastl­y exhibit the crucial human traits of kindness and integrity. Like the Middle Eastern guide on the observatio­n deck who, the previous June, unlocked a door and allowed me to go back inside because I was scared by the perimeter walkway. He was likely on duty when the first jet struck. Then there was the Syrian immigrant at the Pier 94 response center who put his hand to his heart and stopped me mid-sentence while I was trying to give him money to pay his bills, because the daily noontime rendition of the national anthem had begun. These folks reminded me what America is all about. America is a shining star others cherish and I’ve too frequently taken for granted. I feel ashamed about that.

I was born in Venezuela, lived in Italy and Australia, and visited places like Hanoi, Sarajevo, Budapest and Belgrade. I’ve been made aware that our Constituti­on is the envy of the world, and our enterprise is unequaled. No, we do not live like the cartoon Jetsons or in some antiseptic utopian imaginary enclave where potholes do not exist and good things are magically provided. Our nation is a continuing melting pot of millions and millions from around the globe who earnestly came to America looking for opportunit­y and are finding it.

Two decades have passed since 19 depraved individual­s carried out a suicidal plan. While we denounce those who deliberate­ly embraced death, we should also consider how we have chosen to pursue life.

As we know, joy and contentmen­t are not secured by any kind of immunity to heartache and disaster. They’re founded in response to adversity and the determinat­ion to seek life, liberty and happiness regardless of what may transpire.

Today, with a biological tragedy enveloping the world, yet with safe and effective vaccines developed in record time, it may be time for us all to remember that work is not how you make money. It’s how you personally decide to make an impact.

On Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists thought that by taking out our buildings they could destroy our spirit. Yet, with grief in our hearts, tears in our eyes and faith in our souls, we know our real towers of strength remain.

 ?? File photo ?? Workers make an effort to dismantle the remaining facade of One World Trade Center as the recovery and cleanup work continues in November 2001.
File photo Workers make an effort to dismantle the remaining facade of One World Trade Center as the recovery and cleanup work continues in November 2001.

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