eptember 11, 2002: Over the crest of the Brooklyn Bridge, with the rising sun over their shoulders, came the FDNY bagpipers, playing "America the Beautiful" on the last leg of their all-night march to Ground Zero. Behind them followed a drum corps playing martial cadences. The pipers played "The Marine Corps Hymn" and "Over There," and hundreds of ordinary New Yorkers followed, many waving flags on the sad and glorious American morning.
We'd have followed those big old Irishmen playing that soulful music all the way to Baghdad, I'd wager, but we had to stop at the northwest gate of the World Trade Center site, where the crowd grew even larger. Only dignitaries and the families of the 9/11 dead were allowed onto the site, of course, and because of the fences around the perimeter, nobody could see a thing. It didn't seem to matter, though; folks just wanted to be as close as they could to sacred ground.
Just before 8:46, and the first scheduled moment of silence, the cold front forecasters had promised roared in. The intensity of the wind gusts were startling, I mean really intense, and very quickly a cloud of dust rose from Ground Zero, as the names of the 2,800 dead were read aloud. I heard much later that television commentators were likening the dramatic weather to an eerily Biblical sign. While that sounds like poetic liberties to me, I can tell you that the extraordinary wind arrived just before the ceremony began, and slacked off shortly after it ended. Make of that what you will.
Yesterday was a day of prayer and worship across this city, as well as the nation. At noon, a service of Solemn Evensong got underway at beautiful Trinity Church, the historic Episcopal parish at the head of Wall Street and only a few hundred yards from Ground Zero. George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was present to bless a church bell presented to Trinity by the Lord Mayor of London, in celebration of the friendship between London and New York. Carey told the congregation that the bell had been forged in the same East End foundry where the Liberty Bell had been forged centuries earlier.
In generous remarks before the New York audience, the archbishop recalled presiding at a memorial service at St. Paul's Cathedral last autumn. "I can assure you that you weren't alone in your suffering then, just as you aren't alone in your commemoration now," Carey said.
Though he was unequivocal in his condemnation of the evil of the terrorist acts, Carey nevertheless used the occasion to warn Americans to resist the "urge to revenge," which he said "is especially strong when we have not only right, but might on our side." This appeared to be a thinly veiled reference to the impending war on Iraq, which Carey has previously said he opposes, absent "clear evidence" of Saddam's guilt. The archbishop stopped tastefully short of saying the war shouldn't be fought; nevertheless, it seemed inappropriate for Carey to come to that church on this day, and suggest that America's determination to expand the war on terrorism is motivated by a base desire for vengeance.
That seemed to be a variation on a theme common in at least some pulpits yesterday. Several NRO readers wrote to say they'd had it with a "peace at any price" line from their ministers. A friend wrote from Virginia to say he'd walked out of Catholic Mass after the pastor harangued the congregation with a mawkish, pro-pacifism lecture. Pope John Paul II denounced the 9/11 attacks as examples of "ferocious inhumanity," but coupled a prayer for the souls of the innocent dead with a prayer for God's mercy on their killers. The Christian religion demands of its followers prayers for their enemies, but still, this was jarring, especially for Americans. John Paul also called on people of all religions to "firmly reject every form of violence and commit themselves to resolving conflicts with sincere and patient dialogue."
One can't be faulted for wondering if there are many Christian clerics left who reject appeasement, who believe in the moral use of violence, even lethal violence, to bring justice and stop evildoers from threatening the innocent. You will be pleased to learn that I found one last evening: the Rev. George Rutler, who celebrated a requiem mass at the Church of Our Saviour, the Catholic parish on Park Avenue of which he is pastor.
Though he did not mention it in his sermon, Rutler rushed on 9/11 to the burning towers, arriving in time to look into the eyes of firemen and give them the sacrament of absolution they asked for before they began their fatal climbs. Rutler spoke of the goodness the nation saw on that day in the actions of men and women, some of whom gave their lives to help others. Preached Rutler, "In the midst of all the evil of that day, we saw the nobility of the human soul."
He then talked about how we cannot honor our dead by bringing justice to their murderers, and by eliminating those who would murder more Americans, unless we are willing to act. A World War II-era song, said Rutler, contained the line, "wishing will make it so," to comfort a nation that had seen too much blood. But that's a sentimental lie, the priest said.
"One man said the only thing that will conquer evil is blood, toil, tears, and sweat," Rutler said, alluding to Churchill. "Sentimentality is love without sacrifice; therefore, it is not love at all."
"We cannot exact revenge because of evil," Fr. Rutler went on. "But we are not Christians if we think vindication is revenge. ...Vindication is honoring that which is true. Vindication is offering the self for love."
"Wishing does not make things so. Blood makes things so. Toil makes things so. Sweat makes things so. Tears make things so. We are all called to show mercy, but only those who have suffered have the right to show mercy to their persecutors. Jesus asked mercy, but Jesus did not ask mercy for the Devil. Jesus killed the Devil on the Cross. That is the power of love."
The congregation took communion, made thanksgivings, and ended by singing, in full voice, all four verses of "America the Beautiful." The congregation walked out into a cool night in the alabaster city, whose gleam on this day of solemn remembrance remained undimmed, despite tears of grief and rage.