HELP AND HEROISM IN A TIME OF CRISIS
By Dave Andrusko
Editor’s note. I run this column each year in commemoration of 9/11. I am ALWAYS inspired by the response.
“Far from pressing it neatly between the pages of a heavy book, to be retrieved only on special occasions, the day in memory has gained in power and urgency.”
— Nancy Gibbs, TIME magazine, September 10, 2007.
Those of us of a certain age–maybe 55 and up–will always remember where we were November 22, 1963, the day President Kennedy was assassinated. Also etched in our memories forever is September 11, 2001, the day in which over 3,000 people lost their lives in terrorist attacks.
On 9-11, I was to go to my graphic designer to put the final touches the September issue of National Right to Life News. I had just come out of a 7/11 convenience story when I heard the news about the first plane crashing into North Tower of the World Trade Center.
Communications were chaotic. It was unrealistic to believe my graphic artist would be able to send the files over the Internet to the printer. Even getting to her office, which was a couple of hours away, could prove impossible.
But for reasons to this day I can not fully explain or even understand, I was determined that this issue go out that night. A lengthy series of interruptions and complications ensued, but we printed NRL News within a couple of hours of the time we had originally planned to have the edition roll off the presses.
The following appeared subsequently in the October 2001 issue of NRL News. I reprint it each and every September 11 because it tells so much about the caliber of the people who make up our Movement.
Like aftershocks that follow an earthquake, the aftermath of the terrorist bombings in New York City and Virginia and the loss of life on Flight 93 in Pennsylvania continue to roil our nation’s life. Fortunately, as a people, we are characterized by a unique combination of self-sufficiency and utter willingness to help others be helped in times of great trouble.
While there are and will continue to be great uncertainties, we are blessed by constants that never change. Some of them involve people just like you, who know a thing or three about tragedy. Let me tell you a true story that was told to me by Mary Spaulding Balch, the director of state legislation for National Right to Life.
In Mary’s words, it was a mother’s worst nightmare. When the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked, Mary’s nine-year-old daughter, Bridget, was in Paris accompanied by Mary’s sister and Mary’s father-in-law. Neither her sister nor her father-in-law spoke French.
Mary told me her first thought was that there would be similar terrorist attacks on civilians in Europe. (The French army shared her intuition: Within minutes, soldiers were everywhere on the streets of Paris.) Like countless others, it proved impossible for Mary to reach her family overseas.
Frantic, Mary wanted them moved to an English-speaking country, at a minimum. But all international flights had been immediately cancelled as word (and pictures) of the terrorist attacks were shown around the world.
By the next day (Wednesday), Mary’s already considerable anxieties had multiplied many times over. “Everything was in French, of course, and it was like they were marooned,” she remembered.
Her first instinct, she told me, was to ask herself, “Whom could I turn to for help?” A pro-lifer, of course. But how to reach one in a foreign country thousands of miles away during an international crisis?
Then she remembered that Brian Johnston, NRLC’s western regional director, had spoken to a French pro-life group just a couple of months before. Mary reached Brian, who provided her with the e-mail address of Myriam, the woman who had been his talented and helpful translator.
She immediately e-mailed Myriam, who responded via e-mail at midnight Paris time. (Time-wise, Paris is six hours ahead of the East Coast.)
“She began by saying how distressed she was by the bombings, how sorry she was for the loss of life,” Mary recalled. “Then she told me ‘I will do what I can.’ “What she did was invaluable and went far beyond the call of duty.”
The very next day, Myriam paid a much-welcomed visit at the hotel. She took charge, making phone calls, checking with airlines, and discovering after much investigation that there were six scheduled flights leaving Paris for the United States on Sunday.
Unexpectedly, there would be only two departures. “So I went to New York Sunday not knowing whether my family would get off the plane,” Mary said.
“But they did–they had made it out on the second flight.”
Why did Mary want to share this story? “As a mother, I can’t tell you how reassuring it was to me that my daughter would be in the care of a pro-lifer. It was like when someone picks up the phone and you can just tell from their voice that they really care.”
What do you mean? I asked. “Even though we had never met, I knew Myriam was ‘family,’” Mary said. “I knew, I just knew she would take care of my family.”
This story is wonderful not just for what Myriam did out of the generosity of her heart for Mary’s family, but also because we know in our hearts that such could be expected from any pro-lifer. This is greatly reassuring in the face of the uncertainties of the next months, and years, to come.
The murderous attack on the World Trade Center took the lives of over 3,000 people who were in the Twin Towers, on the airplanes, along with hundreds of firefighters, police, and emergency medical service personnel who gave their lives in a valiant attempt to rescue trapped men, women, and children.
American history books will forever include stories of the remarkable heroism we’ve been blessed to hear about since that dark day.
Near the top are the rescuers who have worked to the point of exhaustion searching for survivors. Tragically, not many people were found alive.
Ground-zero construction worker Frank Silecchia’s job was to stop earth-moving machines when he spotted bodies in the debris. Three days after the attack, in the smoking rubble of millions of tons of concrete and steel, he found sections of beams that had fallen from the collapsing North Tower which had “landed in an unusual position” (as New York Daily News columnist Rod Dreher wrote): a cross.
“Some people will say it’s velocity or physics that put it there,” Silecchia told Dreher. “To me, it’s an act of God.”
Several other crossbeams landed in the form of crosses. Workers removed the most significant of the crosses from the wreckage, affixed it to a permanent base, and then placed it over a fallen crosswalk over West Street. On October 5, The Rev. Brian Jordan conducted a blessing ceremony attended by 300 people.
Rev. Jordan said the ceremony fell on the Feast of St. Francis, a day when Catholics give thanks “for all of God’s creation.”
“We’ve been hurting for three weeks,” Jordan told the Daily News. “So I also asked God to heal our nation.”