Sunday, September 11, 2011

GUEST POST: Tribute and Memorial

A Tribute and Memorial 
To The Victims And Valiant Responders
Of September 11, 2001

September 11, 2011

Thank you for the invitation to lead you in this Tribute and Memorial for the victims and valiant responders of the events that took place 10 years ago today.

I’d like to start by defining our gathering, first in the negative and then in the positive.

First we should know that even though a clergyman is standing before you, this is not a church service.  I am all in favor of church services and highly recommend them and the blessings they confer, but they are best held among people of like faith, and I am certain that many different faiths are represented here today.

Secondly, I sincerely hope that we have not gathered for a national day of self pity, even though the scars will never go away, because that would give great joy to our enemies, and that we must not do.

Nor have we gathered because we necessarily approve of the way this attack against our nation has been handled.  There are some who consider 10 years of indecisive war to be a blundering tragedy in its own right.

But then why are we here?  For noble reasons, indeed!

First to remember the many who died and their survivors who suffered such great loss, to assure them that they are not forgotten.  To let them know that the milk of human kindness swells within us.  If you look around you will see, not virtual reality, but flesh and blood human beings willingly assembled in a show of support for their fellow Americans who were monstrously murdered 10 years ago, and for their spouses and children, their parents and friends who can never forget what was taken from them on that dark and doleful day.

We gather, too, to let the world know that we will always respond when our people are threatened, injured or killed.  Those familiar with Cleveland’s Fire Dispatch procedures know that the first thing the officer says when he picks up the apparatus mic is, “wheels rolling.” He doesn’t first inquire after the religious or political views of the person in distress.  He doesn’t ask: do you have insurance or, how will you be paying for this little visit?  His first words are, “wheels rolling.”  And though the jargon is different for EMS, CPD and all the other outstanding agencies represented here today, the result is the same, when duty calls, we go.

We also convene today in order to pay tribute to those who answered that call 10 years ago, who ran into the peril as everyone else was running out, and who sacrificed so much.  I can testify to the mighty dedication that was elicited from all of you following the attack.  We can all remember what we were doing that day, the moment we first comprehended that war had broken out on our soil.  Our first thoughts went to our loved ones!  But having the vocation we do meant that we had to leave them behind in order to protect and serve others.  And they – in their own breathtaking act of heroism – said to us, go! and we did!  Attending to the work with vigor we did not even know we possessed, standing guard over our city with our own bodies, for no one knew where war would break out next.

We remember the following days: the anthrax, the crazies who came out of the woodwork, the freeway snipers 12 months later.  While others regained a modicum of stability with time we were on the highest possible alert, with no time to think about our own well-being because we did not take this job to be served, but to serve and to expend our lives for the well-being of others.

I can also personally attest to the dedication of the people who operated in Pennsylvania and New York City, our brothers and sisters in the military and safety services, who gave their all to the
recovery efforts.  Who breathed in the dust of their fellow human beings 24 hours a day, seven days a week, until finally in July of 2002 the labor was complete – at least as complete as such a thing ever can be.

I witnessed members of agencies from all over this great nation converge on Pennsylvania, and then later on New York City to do their "duty to God and country."  The FBI, ATF, ICE, the National Guard, D-Mort, the airline disaster response teams, myriads of private contractors with the knowledge and equipment to do what needed to be done.  And in addition a mass of selfless, nameless volunteers waiting outside the scenes to offer relief, encouragement, food, drink, clean clothing and to meet every possible need in support of the endeavor. It felt for all the world like the Old America, “the home of the brave” when every American sang from the same score, and what a feeling it was.

And like they did in that by-gone era, many people returned to their faith for solace and for answers.  The clerical collar was like a magnet then.  Everyone wanted to talk, to hear a word of God from Scripture, to begin and end their shifts with prayer so that they might gain spiritual strength in the face of sadness and danger.  It was an uplifting and liberating time when people understood as never before what King David says in the 46th Psalm that, “God is our Refuge and Strength, a very present help in trouble.”

I recall one incident, working third shift at Freshkills, the reconverted garbage dump on Staten Island that was used to sift through all the debris, to search for human remains, evidence, and personal belongings to return to grieving families.  About two in the morning an eagle-eyed detective caught glimpse of a badge going over the edge of the sifter and get lost in the rubble below.  All work ground to a halt and that badge became the focus of an intense search!

When it was found another intense search ensued, this time for the chaplain whose presence was urgently requested because everyone had gathered there, and wanted more than any other thing, to hold an immediate, impromptu funeral service for the fallen Port Authority officer, whose badge would soon be returned to his family.  It’s not the kind of thing they prepare you for in the seminary, but God’s Word did its work that night and for many more, healing the wounded souls of those who jeopardized their lives, their health and their sanity for the love of their fellow man.

Based on such devotion we have also gathered today as Cleveland’s safety forces to re-dedicate ourselves to the same, each according to his God-given vocation.  In this Jesus is the best pattern, who says, “greater love has no man that this that a man lay down his life for his friends, I have called you my friends.”  Following the example of His perfect sacrifice, which brings the forgiveness of sins and redemption to the world, we devote ourselves to the daily task of saving life, relieving affliction and restoring those in danger to normalcy.

I hope, too, that we have come together for one other important purpose: to reclaim the blessings of liberty!  We are not the perpetrators here but in the last ten years we have been treated as if we are, and not just at airports.  We have lost large swaths of our privacy, our freedom of speech our freedom of movement and other important liberties in the name of security, and this is intolerable.
It was Benjamin Franklin who said that: those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.

Lastly we have also assembled on this 10th anniversary in hopes of gaining, by God’s gracious blessing, a degree of closure if possible, the power to move forward if we can.  There is something about the number ten that helps that happen.  That does not mean that we will or should forget, we must not.  But instead, may the events of the past make us ten times stronger, and ten times more resolved, to rise to any future challenge and to meet it with courage.  God grant us the grace to do that; and also to put our wounds behind us; our sorrow behind us, and to know a brighter future.

Thank you for your kind attention.

by: Rev. Dean Kavoruas, Chaplain
Cleveland Emergency Services
FBI – Cleveland Division

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