Lord, guard and guide all those who fly
Through the great spaces in the sky.
Be with them always in the air,
In darkening storms or sunlight fair;
Oh, hear us when we lift our prayer,
For those in peril in the air!
The Air Force Version of Eternal Father Strong to Save
It was an absolutely glorious day today as I walked by Canandaigua Lake. The sky was a clear azure blue, with just a touch of coolness.
A perfect fall day, and it reminded me so much of September 11, 2001, another seemingly at first perfect – yet not– fall day, we will never forget.
I had just arrived at work when the news spread that an airplane had struck one of the World Trade Center towers. We moved to our common area and turned on the television and I was stunned to see the second plane hit, the second tower. Stunned turned to horror, and rumors began to be spread of attacks in Washington, where my daughter worked one block from the White House. The next few hours were lost. I can say I remember nothing of that day, not a thing from work, only that I was finally able to reach my daughter, who like many had fled Washington abandoning her car, in the wake of gridlock.
September 11, 2001 fell on a Tuesday.
It did not dawn on me until later in the week, that I was scheduled to read a major prayer in church. In our church, there is a prayer led by a layperson called, “The Prayers of the People.” It generally is the same from week to week, but there is a section where clergy, various churches and dioceses, the departed, and others are remembered by name.
The prayer came in the mail two days later for me to read on Sunday, September 16. As I looked it over, it became clear to me that I would be praying for those lost not only in the Twin Towers, but also those on the aircraft that went down. Now it is easy to read something like this to oneself. Easy of course is not even close to the right word, given the raw emotions of those days. Still reading it privately is easy, reading it in front of a packed church of about 500 is not.
On that morning, I walked to the lectern and began the prayer with the standard phrases.
“I ask your prayers for God’s people throughout the world; for our Bishop; for this gathering; and for all ministers and people. Pray for the Church.”
Prayers were then given for peace, goodwill among nations, the sick, and others.
All this went well. But as my eyes moved down the page it became clear to me that what was to come would be the hardest thing I had ever done.
I began, “ I ask your prayers for the departed especially :
American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, that crashed into the North and South towers, respectively, of the World Trade Center
American Airlines Flight 77, that crashed into the Pentagon
United Airlines Flight 93 that crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
With each line, with each word, it became harder and harder to read, to speak, to face those people.
Yet I kept on, literally forcing out, in a voice barely audible, the words of healing and comfort I had been given to say.
When I finished I simply said, “Pray for those who have died.”
And there was Silence.