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A TRAFFIC JAM AND PIETA
September 11, 2006
 
We'll take you to the train station, Anna said at dinner, and for once I didn't argue. The Brooklyn Bridge looked pretty slow, so we chose the Battery Tunnel -- and hang the expense. We sailed in with just a few other cars; this was definitely the way to go. But halfway through, everything in the tunnel came to a stop and stayed that way.

It's a little close in the tunnel in late summer. With that many people stuck in one place, it was inevitable that some of them would be claustrophobes, and so pretty a few desperate-looking folks could be seen trudging along the walkway toward the tunnel entrance in the distance. Then a couple of young Japanese girls, their enormous suitcases in tow. The man in the car next to ours was furious, banging on the hood of his own car in frustration. The drive of the Hummer behind us walked over to him to commiserate. From time to time someone honked his horn, eliciting an answering chorus of beeps from other drivers.

Why do you reckon they do that? I asked. Where do they think we're going to go?

I think they feel better when they honk,
Chad said. At least they're doing something.

A determined policeman strode down the middle of the tunnel between the two lanes of cars, trying to keep people in their vehicles. It's the president, he shouted. Nobody's moving until he's outta here.

Oh! Right.
President Bush was coming to St. Paul's Chapel yesterday -- I knew that, but had forgotten. New Yorkers hate it when he comes. Let me hasten to add that we hated it when President Clinton came, too. We are utterly nonpartisan in our reaction to a presidential visit: the arrival of a president and his entourage tips the fragile balance of sustainable life in this city right over the edge.

Finally we began to move. As we emerged, we saw the president's motorcade speed toward the FDR Drive. Probably heading for the Waldorf, if he was staying over, or the airport, if he was leaving town. I didn't know his plans for today.

For that matter, I don't even know my own plans. I have no speaking engagements today, and am tired from yesterday's. I have crept warily toward the fifth anniversary of 9/11. I have dreamed of it again, of twisted piles of rubble, of buildings smoking like chimneys, dreams that I used to have several times a week and don't have as much now. I have wondered, not for the first time, if my worsening physical condition since then is because I was there too much, and immediately feel unworthy even for thinking such a thing: many were there much more than I was.

Did you know Fr. Mychal? Chad asked as we drove.

No, I didn't know him personally, but I know a lot of people who loved him. I thought of Bobby, of Greg, of Brendan and Tom. Brendan's produced a movie about Fr. Mychal that everyone who has seen it has loved. It's won big prizes. Fr. Mychal's death was like his life, it seems: an act of love.

Somebody said that that picture of him being carried out was like a pieta, Chad said.

Yeah, it really was. There was Fr. Mychal, unconscious, his head sagging to one side, his features sagging, his arms and legs supported by policemen and firemen as they carried him out. There were so many carried out like that: on people's backs, four men carrying a wheelchair, two people with an injured one between them, a lumpy progress down stair after stair and out into the swirling dust.

So many just like him, and yet so few. That's the way a priest hopes to be, of course: like everyone in the world, and yet as much like Christ as is possible for a fallen human being. I guess that's way we all hope to be.

The names of the fallen are read this year by their spouses and partners. I listen to them read, the brave strong tones with which they each begin their portions of the long list, then the little breaks in the strong voices as they send their personal messages to the dead.

It is working, I think, this business of being a human being. This holy business: there is a priesthood of all who lend us their strength from heaven, one that far transcends anything the Church's ordination could confer. I see that this is not much about membership in a church, this business of being in Christ. Not so much about what they believed or didn't believe in life as about who they are now. They were so like everyone, and now they are in Christ. But they are not just in Christ and standing still. Life goes on, changed but not ended. They are in Christ for us.
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You can see a portion of Brendan's film about Fr. Mychal, and read about it at http://www.saintof9-11.com/saint/.
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To see the 9/11 photo of Fr. Mychal, visit http://www.janeellen.com/musings/mychal3.html.
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Remember someone who died at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon or in one of the planes in the vigils we keep on the Farm at http://www.geraniumfarm.org/candles.cfm
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