It is odd to think that this is already the fifth anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center - odd that time has gone by so quickly, and odd that anniversaries in multiples of five seem more significant than others.
We all have memories of that day, what we were doing, where we were, just as older people remember where they were and what they were engaged in when they heard that President John F. Kennedy had been shot.
For the Whalons, we will always recall being in the huge IKEA store north of Paris when we saw the first images from New York. The towers had not yet collapsed. That was unthinkable, at that moment, but a few hours later we learned of the full scale of the horror.
Then I was on the phone with Dean Ernie Hunt, talking about whether we should remove the American flag from in front of the Cathedral, and planning the service for the morrow. As Bishop Rowthorn and Anne were in the States, I had to act as bishop a bit early. It was my baptism by fire, so to speak.
What I recall of the next several days was Dean Ernie's steady hand with the congregation, the closeness we all felt to other Americans, and the extraordinary solidarity of the French with us, expressed in all kinds of ways, from little acts of kindness on the street, to France being the first country to send its leader to New York and pledge total support to the United States, to the solemn tolling of the bourdon of Notre Dame de Paris, the huge bell that is never rung except when popes die. Its low F was heard for miles.
And then there has been everything since. Upon finally being allowed to return to Fort Pierce, Florida, where I was still rector, we learned of the deaths of friends in the Center and on Flight 93. Then came the war in Afghanistan, Iraq, 'freedom fries,' shoe bombers, and all the rest.
I think back to the liturgy at the Cathedral on September 12, 2001. The Paris fire-fighter weeping for the comrades he had just trained with the month before in New York, as he lit a candle for them. The multitudes who came, from every race and nation. The huge pile of candles, flowers, poems and notes up against the Cathedral's wrought- iron gates. The media and the fifteen interviews I gave. Ernie's calming strength. The satisfaction that we Episcopalians have a great church in Paris where we can share such sorrow in the strong embrace of Christ together.
And afterwards. when I thanked the heavily-armed French police for protecting us, their commander replied rather stiffly, 'We only did our duty.' I replied that we had four hundred police officers yesterday in New York City doing their duty. He and all the men around him burst into tears, drops falling on their assault weapons and Kevlar vests...
America's finest hour of all (I quoted Robert Heinlein from the pulpit) came in 1945 when we had sole possession of atomic weapons and a huge military machine, and yet we chose to make peace instead of embarking on the conquest of the world. Now once again we were being challenged by events that could either awaken the slumbering demons in our national psyche, or else measuring up to the enduring greatness of America of which we were justifiably proud.
Tomorrow, I shall ask myself, where are we now, five years later, in answering the attack on September 11. We have a huge amount of work to do.
Today, however, I will think of CeeCee Lyles, a Fort Pierce detective who was my friend, and a friend of our parish and school. She chose to leave that profession, tired of the politics of a black woman in a mostly white department, and became instead an flight attendant for United. So that she could better provide for her four young sons... She was able to call her husband to say she loved him and the boys before she joined in the passenger rebellion on board Flight 93. In November 2003 a full-sized statue of her was unveiled in Fort Pierce.
And I am sure that we all know someone, for whom we can say a prayer of thanksgiving and loss. Today is a day for grieving, for the work of grief is never really ended.
Lux ?terna luceat eis, Domine, et dona eis requiem ?ternam.
Tomorrow, however, we need to get on with the never-ending work of peace-making, and for us Americans, and Europeans as well, there is more work than ever.
The Rt. Rev. Pierre W. Whalon, D.D.
Convocation of American Churches in Europe