John More '64 on September 11
The following is a letter that John More sent to Tony Lee, Class Secretary, on October 14, 2001, to share with classmates his experiences on September 11.
In the weeks since September 11, I have been reconnecting to many people, especially relatives and friends in New York. Even when my calls to New York are for business I find that we always end up talking about where we were, who survived, who was lost, the need for community and recommitment to the spiritual. There is such a need to connect with others these days. For this reason I am willing to share what I wrote to you with the Class of 1964 - in the hope that others will also share, particularly those who suffered the loss of loved ones or acquaintances that day or were at the scene.
This is the first time I have had the energy to write about what happened ― motivated in part by a Washington Post article about going into nature to find spirituality.
I have been reflecting on what you and I have discussed concerning spirituality and nature in relation to the horror that happened in New York and Washington. The first thing that struck me, even as the disaster was unfolding, was that the day started as about as beautiful an early Fall day as I have experienced in Washington. It had started with a beautiful sunrise coming back from Dulles where Livy and I put our daughter, Anna, on a plane to San Francisco.
After returning from Dulles, I drove downtown through Rock Creek Park, which is always a wonderful place for me. I was going to the Yale '64 breakfast. We had our usual great conversations. We heard that the first Tower was hit, just as we were leaving. We stopped and watched on TV as the second plane hit the second Tower with the image that I doubt any of us will forget. We all knew that this was a terrorist attack and we were in a new world.
But at the same time it did not seem completely real. As we parted, the day was still beautiful. People were stopping to talk, but otherwise were going to work. It was very hard to match my surroundings with what I had just seen on TV. My senses were heightened. I noticed with intensity the flowers, the trees, birds, squirrels and the way the White House shines through the foliage of Lafayette Park. But the normalcy and beauty of the nature felt like a small protection against the death and terrible potentialities of the World Trade Center terrorist act. I could not find a refuge in nature from thoughts of people I might know or strangers in the Towers and on the hijacked planes. My thoughts turned also to the Arab-American and Muslim community where I have many friends, and what stupid and distraught people would now be doing to them (as has happened in all too often in the past).
I stopped briefly in St. John's Church, Lafayette Square, which I attend, to pray. I did find a brief moment of inner peace here, although tears of grief were streaming down my cheeks. I could not stay long because they were preparing for a funeral.
I then sought out my Rector, Luis León, in his office. He was just learning from his wife about the Towers. And when we looked out his window, there was a thick cloud of black smoke seeming to come from the West Wing of the White House - over the same trees from which I has just been seeking some relief from the thoughts of New York and what we humans can do to each other. We soon learned that it was the Pentagon that had been hit. Luis and I wondered whether any of St. John's parishioners who work there had been killed or injured (they had not).
Luis and I proceeded outside the Church and watched people streaming out of the White House and surrounding office buildings. I remember thinking that we were a bit foolish to be standing there, when another attack was possible. But as I said, it was hard to think that something so terrible was happening on such a beautiful day. We then went to the newsroom of my client, United Press International. On twenty monitors, we could watch again and again the crash, people leaping out of windows and the awful, sickening collapse of the Towers.
Eventually, after telling Livy by cell phone that I was OK, I left my office. I tried to go back to the Church where I had left my bags and was forced from the area by Secret Service personnel with submachine guns. It was still a beautiful day, but the smoke from the Pentagon and the sirens had destroyed all peace even though the streets by then were completely empty, which looked like a scene from On the Beach.
I couldn't get my car ― the city was gridlocked. But I did find an Egyptian friend who was worried about his family and helped him drive us out of the city by using back alleys. During this very slow drive, I prayed more than I think I have ever done ― for all of those I knew were suffering, but also for Livy and me and our daughter, Anna, who had flown out that morning.
It was about this time that I heard there was a fourth hijacked plane that had been heading for the West Coast and that it was a United flight like the one Anna had left on. It was not until 11:30 that the news reported the United flight was not out of Dulles. I did not assume that Anna was on one of the planes, but even the possibility was so horrendous that I had to reach deep into my soul to believe that it would not be so. And at the same time I kept thinking of the huge numbers of people that were going to lose someone. I did later receive a message on my cell phone that she was safe in Wichita, Kansas.
Since that day, I have felt first destroyed, then renewed through religious services at St. John's and on TV and spending time meditating on the natural world around me. I feel a need to recommit to the sort of interfaith experience that I have found in the Washington Interfaith Network, a multi-ethnic, multi-denominational, multi-faith grassroots organizing group here in DC, of which I am one of the leaders.
I remain concerned that under the threat of terrorism, we as a society will allow civil liberties to deteriorate, will not object to demonizing of Muslim Americans, and will ignore the problems of the working poor ― made worse by worsening economy. So I ask classmates to remember all who died and all who are suffering in New York and in the Washington metro area and to recommit to defeating prejudice and to fighting against poverty and ignorance and to building the United States into a better place for all its citizens.
In ending, I would like to share a fragment of Psalm 133 that Leonard Bernstein used to finish his Chichester Psalms that I heard at the National Symphony Orchestra shortly after the terrorism:
"Ah, how good and how lovely
Brothers dwelling together."
Peace to everyone and I hope and pray none of us has lost someone close to them.