September 11, 2012 found a group of St. Paul’s parishioners, led by the Rev. Mary Davis, gathered in the early morning dawn at the Chatham Train Station handing out bookmarks to commuters. The bookmarks were simple, including a prayer for peace and the words “Peace, Love, and Hope” in many languages, and the intention was even simpler – to let the commuters know, as they boarded the train exactly eleven years after that horrific day, that they were not alone. We gathered not just as Episcopalians, but also as fellow survivors of a tragic and life-changing event in our shared history.
The bookmarks and their intention may have been simple, but the decision to participate certainly wasn’t. The reasons not to do it were many – it’s too early, the kids need breakfast, there were early morning responsibilities at work, and it required “going out of our comfort zone,” being willing to approach strangers and sometimes, even more difficult, approach people we knew. Would they be annoyed? Angry? Would they think we were proselytizing? That we were religious freaks? Pushing a political agenda?
The reality, thankfully, was far different. The commuters were very receptive to us and many expressed their thanks to us for being there. Conductors were especially receptive to receiving the bookmarks. We heard reports of commuters several stops past Chatham still reading their bookmark prayers.
For those of us there, the experience was intimate, healing and uplifting. As is so often the case, an event designed to give comfort and solace to others ended up providing it tenfold to us.
September 11th is a difficult day. It can be hard to figure out how to acknowledge the past. Standing together as a community of faith and offering the only thing we can – our presence – is a great way to start.
Is this “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace?” It certainly felt that way.
This year, on September 11th, St. Paul’s clergy and parishioners will gather again at the Chatham Train Station, offering prayers for and a presence of peace.
Allison Pishko is member of St. Paul’s Church in Chatham.