Saturday, September 10, 2011

Visiting "Ground Zero"

9/11 had a large impact on my ministry.  About two years later, in 2003, now ministering in New England, my colleague Jennie Barrington and I, were talking often how 9/11 had shaped our ministry.  We also were big Simon and Garfunkel fans, and Simon and Garfunkel were doing their "Old Friends" reunion tour.  We bought two tickets to go see them in New Jersey, and we hit the road.  We went two places: the concert, and Ground Zero.  That was it -- we didn't do a Broadway show or see the Statue of Liberty, or go to the Met.  We had two things we wanted to do: that concert, and see Ground Zero for ourselves.

I had been to New York City only two or three times before -- once to visit a boyfriend in college over the summer, once with my college's Glee Club on a concert trip.  I had driven through it a couple of times on my way to New England, also, but all I can say about that is that the tunnels and bridges are expensive, and that driving through New York City six months after 9/11 with a truck full of furniture is a nerve-wracking experience.  I had never gone to see the World Trade Center when it was standing.  I've still never been to the Statue of Liberty, although I saw it from the ferry my first time there. 

So we drove with our bad Mapquest directions ("take the exit" -- which exit?) down to our hotel in New Jersey near the concert venue.  We listened to Simon and Garfunkel all the way down and all the way back, hearing some songs that we had never heard before on their newest release, such as "A Church Is Burning," which we heard with stunned ears, and replayed over and over again several times in a row, weeping, as we drove down.  We talked about how to use the song in worship, something I still haven't done.  And we went to the concert, which was a special treat not only getting to hear them, but hearing them in home turf, in the New York City area.

And then we went to Ground Zero.

There was no memorial there, of course.   What there was was a big pit where work was still going on uncovering things that had been pushed down into the earth by the collapse of the towers.  The area was surrounded by fences, tourists walking around, and people selling t-shirts and tchotchkes.  It was a strange and surreal experience standing there by the fence with nothing particular to say or do once we got there.  It had become more tourist site than memorial at that time.  Yet it was an important moment, this finally seeing it for ourselves, and understanding how big the area was.

I don't remember if we wept or if we prayed, or if we just walked around and looked.  I do remember that it changed us.

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