by Colleen Kelly, Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace
Joel 2:12-18 | 2 Corinthians 5:20—6:2 | Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
By the evening of September 11th, 2001, my mother had called several times asking me to go to Manhattan to search for my brother Bill. Unbeknownst to our family, Bill had attended a one-day breakfast conference at Windows on the World—the famous restaurant situated in the North Tower of the World Trade Centers. Every family that day wanted to believe that by some stroke of fate, its loved one was not inside the burning buildings. Our family was no different.
Nearing midnight, a friend and I went by subway to Grand Central Station. We then began the long, sorrowful walk from hospital to hospital asking for news of survivors. Each emergency room nurse told us the same thing—any survivors had been brought in earlier that morning. There was no further news.
The streets of Manhattan were deserted. Giant trash trucks had been parked in the middle of the avenues, presumably to thwart any new type of street terror attack. Police cars and ambulances with flashing lights were the sole moving vehicles. The only people on the city streets were either other family members, also searching for news of a missing loved one, or people who were homeless, in cardboard encampments and seemingly as shocked as the rest of the nation.
What I remember most about that night is the ash and dust. Particles were floating in the air all around Manhattan. The dust stung my eyes. The ash tasted metallic in my mouth. Breathing in felt funny. I wasn’t fully aware of the ashes and dust at first. Every moment of that day held its own unique shock and trauma, all of Ash Wednesday which took time to sift through.
But by the beginning of Lent 2002, the ashes and dust of September 11th had become enormously important. All my life I had heard the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Like never before, this phrase now held powerful meaning. In remembering the ashes and dust, I was remembering my brother. He was now a part of me, in my very being. Bill’s body has never been found, and this uncertainty weighs heavy. But our faith tells us that Bill’s body is not what is most important. His body is ashes. It is dust. Bill’s spirit however, and the Easter promise of resurrection and new life, live on.
In remembering that I will return to dust, how do I keep hope for new life?
This reflection was written by Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace Colleen Kelly. It is included in this year’s Lenten reflection booklet, From Ashes to Resurrection, Dust to New Life, and available as a download for purchase from the Pax Christi USA website.